'Greater Serbia' A summary of how this Serbian nationalist idea took hold and what it meant.


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: Tito's Yugoslavia was noted for the relatively peaceful coexistence among the various communities. How was this nationalistic idea of a "Greater Serbia" able to come about again? Who were those who encouraged it and who carried it out?

A. One cannot say that this is an idea that disappeared. This is an idea which had been very powerful during the 19th century and during the first half of the 20th century. The idea itselfwas under Tito's authority and something which was not allowed, one was not to express it, but it expressed itself, nonetheless, in the Serbian press outside the country. For example, in the United States or in Australia and other countries as well, where there were Serbian newspapers which expressed very openly that idea.

The Serbs, in fact, were not the only ones; there were also an overseas Croatian press which expressed nationalistic thoughts as well. So the idea was partially kept by those who were no longer living in the country and also present all the time in Serbia itself, even though it was not expressed, at least in the beginning, and in any case, under the Tito regime, since it was understood that the nationalist tendencies in the various republics continued to exist, the government in principle condemned them, officially condemned them, in the name of a doctrine known as "unity and fraternity." But, simultaneously, they had a role to play and used them because the regime played with the different nationalist aspirations, pitting one against the other. It would in certain regions favor one people at the expense of another.

Direct expression of these aspirations under the most brutal forms was smothered, but the indirect expression of those ideas through literature or through various concrete demands sometimes could appear. During the first half of the government's existence, the Ministry of the Interior was the person who was the most powerful in the police was himself a Serb -- this was the period when the regime was extremely centralized -- and this is the person who became actually the person who was involved, who repressed the Albanians and advocated that repression.

We can, therefore, see that these nationalistic tendencies always existed, and that at one point they were expressed more openly. For example, at the end of the 1970s there was Dobrica Cosic who later on in 1992 was the President of the new Yugoslavia who had, in fact, expressed various theses which earned him being removed from power or being removed from the good graces of the government. But, in principle, at that point it was not -- so long as the Yugoslav Federation was still in existence, it was not a question of demands for modifying or changing the borders of Yugoslavia, because they were borders which were satisfactory to the Serbs, but had to do, rather, with demands...and relations among the different nations within each of the republics.

These trends became more clear once Tito had died, that is, during the 1980s which is when they began to be manifest; for example, having to do with the events of Kosovo where there was a conflict between the Serbs and the Albanians when even the official press condemned the position of the Albanians and took the position which was very much in favor of the Serbs.

The same thing held in literature at that time. We see people who are presenting ideas from the point of view of Serbian nationalism, for example, with the novel which was written by Vuk Draskovic called "The Knife", which appeared in 1982.

So the nationalist Serbian tendencies became more and more strong during that time. But so long as the Federal State existed, the problem did not really arise as having to do with the creation of Serbia because the Federal State, so long as its practices and constitution was directed in a certain way, could, in fact, become the realization itself of Greater Serbia. Therefore, the very term "Greater Serbia" really is not correctly used for that period, and the concept of the Greater Serbia did not have to be used and should not be used. But these nationalist Serbian tendencies became more and more clear throughout the 1980s and become particularly distinct in the memorandum of the Academy of Sciences which was drafted at the end of 1986.

Q. When we talk about politics and the leadership, can this concept "Greater Serbia" be attributed to a certain faction or to specific individuals?

A. We can attribute it to a whole range of people. It was a project which was floating in the air at the time all through the 1980s, this idea of reforming Yugoslavia in order to turn it into more of a centralized state. The idea which we find in this memorandum of the Academy of Sciences which I have just mentioned is the following: This attempt at decentralization first led to economic disaster and then meant that the Serbs were divided among various more ever increasing autonomous entities, and that they felt that they had been oppressed and that they had to arise by creating a centralized state. So the idea was already floating in the air.

It was promoted by various politicians, by people working in universities, those who wanted to become the leaders of the political parties later on, that is, people like Draskovic, who later on would found the Serbian Renewal Movement, or Seselj, who later would set up the Radical Party, those who would later on set up the Democratic Party; that is, it was also propagated more insidiously by the official press.

The great event, the great change, takes place in 1986/86 when all of a sudden these ideas, which to this point had more or less been fought by the regime who considered them as really being dangerous, became adopted. Suddenly there was a communist leader in Serbia, a new leader, who adopted them. This was Slobodan Milosevic who came to power in 1986 and affirmed his power once again in '87.

From that point on, these ideas, which up to that point had been propagated more or less by various people, suddenly were taken up again by the power, the power of Serbia. They were no longer considered, whereas up to this point they had been fought against, but from this point on, they were encouraged at the highest places.

Q. Did the Serbian nationalists' ideas correspond to any kind of a concrete reality on the ground having to do with the way the communities were distributed, or was this instead an expansionist idea?

A. So long as Yugoslavia existed as a Federal State, the purpose of the Serbian nationalists was merely to strengthen the State, to reinforce the centralization within that State, to reinforce the federal power against the various entities, because the federal power conceived in that way could become the instrument of Serb domination on the rest.

At that point, there were no territorial demands. There was no reason to have any because it would have been sufficient for the power at the federal level to become once again stronger and more centralizing for the objectives of the Serb nationalists to be achieved. It was only gradually, in fact, that this ideal moved away and that the central power became less central and that the provinces acquired more autonomy.

At that point, the idea begins to be born, that perhaps it would be better to come to an accommodation with the fact that there are borders between the republics and, therefore, attempt to shift the borders, at which point the idea begins to come about that a redistribution of the territory would become necessary.

 


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