'Great' Serbia

By Wilkes, Kathy | Contemporary Review, September 1995 | Go to article overview

'Great' Serbia


Wilkes, Kathy, Contemporary Review


In 1985, or thereabouts (so, well before the present wars) I was reading in the Croatian newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija an article written by a Serb. It was protesting against Croatian complaints that it was difficult to speak to Serbs. The author said no, it was easy: so long as the Croat could persuade the Serb to agree upon three points: (i) that the population of Serbia was slightly smaller than that of China, (ii) that the territory of `Great Serbia' was slightly smaller than that of the Soviet Union, and (iii) that just because a Serb had once changed planes in Stockholm did not mean that Sweden was therefore part of `Great Serbia'. If you got y our interlocutor to agree about that, the writer said, you could then talk sensibly. And T repeat: a Serb wrote this article.

After the 1984 winter Olympics in Sarajevo, reporters, viewers, and athletes alike returned praising the city. Years before the South African `rainbow coalition', Sarajevo seemed to have that rainbow. (All of Bosnia-Herzegovina, for that matter, was rainbow-coloured.) Multi-ethnicity seemed to be working triumphantly.

Similarly, how many innocent, apolitical tourists, visiting the tourist sites along the coasts of Croatia and Montenegro, visiting Mostar or the national park of Plitvice, realised that they were in Croatia, Montenegro or Bosnia-Herzegovina? They were in `Yugoslavia'.

This was a federation within which the civilians (rather than the politicians) co-existed happily for the most part, although there was strong pressure for less domination from Belgrade: a confederation seemed the right solution. There were `nationalist' bickerings from time to time, certainly; just as there are between Scottish and English football supporters.

So what went wrong? Reporters and commentators seem to have ignored the details of the constitutions of the (internationally recognised) governments of Croatia and Bosnia/Herzegovina. These, if you look at them, give the minorities -- all of them, not only the Serb minorities -- fuller rights and freedoms, and (as the other side of the coin from rights) also duties, than any other European country. It is absurd to contend this point without reading the Constitutions of the two governments.

What went wrong? Reporters and politicians have also chosen to overlook the fact that the very first sentence of the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution gave each Republic the right to withdraw from the Federation.

What went wrong? In 1990, President Kucan of Slovenia, and President Tudjman of Croatia, argued for hours, weeks, and months for a `con'-federation; which would have kept former Yugoslavia together, with a certain amount of loosening up of the centralised Belgrade government. Milosevic the Serbian leader, rejected it all.

He was able to reject it, because after he had organised the overthrow of the `autonomous republics' of Kosovo and Vojvodina, and replaced the government in Montenegro (all in 1989-90), there was a stand-off. For a confederation were Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia. Against were Serbia, and the puppet-governments in Kosovo. Vojvodina, and Montenegro.

What went wrong? The West was all too anxious to believe the Serbs, when they said that they were only trying to protect endangered Serbs, and to defend the Yugoslav army (JNA) troops besieged in barracks in Croatia. Unfortunately, the attack against Dubrovnik showed this up as the scam that it was. I shall use Dubrovnik as an example, because I was there throughout the war. First, the five per cent of Serbs in Dubrovnik said that they did not want a Serb/Chetnik `defence': formally, in writing, to Milosevic and General Adzic. They denied that they were `endangered'.

Indeed, many Serbs fought heroically to defend the city and commune; and the first victim in the attack on the city was himself a Serb, Milan Milisic, who was at the time of his death engaged in nothing more aggressive than testing the readiness of the soup in his kitchen. …

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