'Saviours of the Nation:' Serbia's Intellectual Opposition and the Revival of Nationalism

By Petrovic, Edit | Canadian Slavonic Papers, September-December 2003 | Go to article overview

'Saviours of the Nation:' Serbia's Intellectual Opposition and the Revival of Nationalism


Petrovic, Edit, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Jasna Dragovic-Soso. 'Saviours of the Nation:' Serbia's Intellectual Opposition and the Revival of Nationalism. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002. vii, 293 pp. Bibliography. Index. $70.00, cloth. $27.95, paper.

This book is, intriguingly enough, dedicated to the late Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito. According to the author, it represents an attempt to move beyond one-sided explanations about the Serbian intellectual opposition's shift towards nationalism. Jasna Dragovic-Soso rejects simplistic explanations, arguing that opposition intellectuals joined Milosevic's regime mainly for personal gains, and also critically reviews the ideological continuity thesis which asserts Serbia's continuous desire for hegemony, centralism, and assimilation of other nations.

The author opts for a "structural-contextual" interpretation that focuses on tensions between the democratic and nationalistic orientations within Serbia. It is implied that a complex socio-economic and historical-political context has to be taken into consideration to properly interpret the emergence and embracement of nationalism in Serbia and answer the question of how it was possible that essentially non-nationalistic intellectuals embraced the extreme nationalism installed and sustained by Milosevic's regime in the period after the 1989.

The book requires a somewhat informed reader, as it is not always easy to keep track of all the actors in this multi-levelled historical analysis. The author takes a chronological approach that starts with the 1950s and communist dissident intellectuals emerging after Tito's departure from the Soviet model of communism; it continues into the 1960s critique of the Titoist regime and the emergence of both nationalists and liberals in the period 1967-1971. This is followed by the period 1975-86, characterized by the emergence of civil rights debates. Finally, by 1987, the political figure emerged in Serbian political scene that gave articulation to divergent intellectual aspirations: the one for democratization and building of a civil society, and the other one that craved a renaissance of the Serbian nation. Slobodan Milosevic, a communist-nationalist, harvested the nationalist ideas, realizing that, while the hope of preserving a united Yugoslavia faded, nationalism was becoming the "social glue" that could bridge Serbian political differences. While in the 1980s the intellectual opposition's solution to the national question mostly remained moderate, it was radicalized during the 1990s. Even though the book was published in 2002, Dragovic-Soso leaves outside of her analysis the whole period after 1991. In an epilogue-style conclusion, she provides a snap-shot of where Serbia was in the year 2000.

The book focuses on Serbia's "Official Opposition"-the one that, despite its unfavourable status during the Titoist Yugoslavia, continued to publish books, produce films, and have a media presence. The author cautions that it is also important to remember that, despite its apparent "liberal outlook," the Titoist regime was breaching all kinds of human rights. After presenting a brief overview of the decades of the 1950-1980s, she argues that both, nationalist and democratic options were equally present in Serbia's intellectual thought. …

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