Serbia's Political Intellectuals

The role of Serbian intellectuals in the current Greater Serbian onslaught has been decisive. the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (1986) was the first open and authoritative attempt at reviving the Greater Serbian idea since World War II, in which Serbian chetniks, in collaboration with German and Italian forces of occupation, had tried to prepare the ground for Greater Serbia by fighting the partisans, terrorizing civilian population, and committing genocide of Croats and Muslims. The Memorandum claims that "the integrity of the Serbian people and its culture throughout Yugoslavia is the fateful question of its survival and development" and, harking back to the central idea of Moljevic's program, argues that "the establishment of the full national and cultural integrity of the Serbian people, regardless of which [Yugoslav] republic or province it inhabits, is its historic and democratic right" (Mihailovic & Kresitc 1995:144). This document was soon to play a decisive role in the transformation of Slobodan Milosevic from an old-style communist apparatchik into the prophet of Serbian nationalism.

Since the mid-1980s, the overwhelming majority of Serbian political intellectuals, including almost all intellectual elites, have adopted, radicalized, and disseminated this idea. Serbian historians and writers have engaged in wholesale revision of Balkan history, presenting it as one long story of Serbia's selfless efforts to liberate other nations. They have denied Serbian hegemony in the first Yugoslavia (1918-1941) and whitewashed Serbian collaborators with the Nazis in World War II, while wildly exaggerating the numbers of victims of other Yugoslav nations' quislings. Academics and other intellectuals have promoted a picture of the Serbs as a nation inherently superior to, and destined for greater things than, other nations; as by nature freedom-loving and generous toward other nations, incapable of hatred, let alone revenge or atrocities; the sole among the nations of ex-Yugoslavia that has any history to speak of and is capable of state-building. Theologians (and others) have been telling their fellow Serbs that they are a "divine," "heavenly," "chosen" people. Other nations of the former Yugoslavia have been depicted as lesser breeds: devoid of any authentic culture, slaves by character and by destiny; incapable and undeserving of freedom and independence; by nature ungrateful, envious, treacherous, ect. Two of them, the Croats and the Muslims, have been portrayed as collectively prone to fascism and genocide (Vucelic 1992). The latter, in particular, have been systematically dehumanized in a truly mind-boggling way: Serbian intellectuals have described them as a "semi-Arab subculture," "madmen infected with Asiatic plague," "beasts with human faces," and the like (Cigar 1995:24-29, 41-42 & 185).

Given such an apportioning of roles, Balkan history emerges as one in which the Serbs have consistently sacrificed themselves to liberate other South Slav nations, only to be cheated of the fruits of their victories, stabbed in the back by those they had liberated, subjected to the hegemony of others, always threatened and endangered. The bottom line of all that is the famous thesis of Dobrica Cosic, the most acclaimed Serbian writer in recent decades: "the Serbs have always won in war, and lost in peacetime." Of course, if that is true, and if they do not want to lose again, the Serbs must wage war as long it takes to establish and secure for good a nation-state that includes all of them, while excluding all "foreign elements." In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the Serbian writer Filip David points out,

Institutions of culture...were transformed into noisy gangs whose trumpets and drums were announcing future bloody sunrises. Without such a thoroughgoing and fundamental preparation, which emphasized the national to the extent of self-adulation, together with a hatred of all that is different and alien, the war would not have been possible... Institutions of culture prepared the war. Politics put it into effect David 1994:44-45).
The validity of this scathing judgment can be briefly illustrated by the activities of the two most important Serbian cultural institutions: the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and the Writers' Association of Serbia. The former has been in the very center of Serbian politics ever since the publication of the Memorandum. In its subsequent activities, analyzed in some detail in Olivera Milosavljevic's study "The Use of the Authority of Science," the main tenets of that document have been endlessly repeated and significantly radicalized (A HREF="prim4.html">Milosavljevic1995:iii). By 1989 the Academy was formally expressing full support of Milosevic's policies, while its leading members were engaging in pro-government propaganda throughout the country. As Milosavljevic points out, "whenever the authorities needed them, they could find enought active members of the Academy ready to pronounce expert judgment on every topical subject of day to day politics and to proffer scientific verification of the validity of the current policy" (A HREF="prim4.html">Milosavljevic1995:xxx).

The contribution of Serbian writers to the popularization of the Greater Serbian idea and the war waged to implement it has been no less important. As Drinka Gojkovic notes in her study of the activities of the Writers' Association of Serbia in the same period, by entering the realm of ideology, a writer leaves the realm of literature. But, as Gojkovic goes on to show, many Serbian writers have become ideologists and "joined day to day politics at various levels, both as individuals and through appropriate institutions." Their association, in particular, has been "one of the most enthusiastic producers of ideology in the public domain" (Gojkovic 1995:i). The ideology it has been producing and disseminating is that of Serbian supremacy and exclusivity and unrestrained hatred and aggression against other peoples of Yugoslavia. Its message has been "in complete accord with extremely nationalistic manipulations by [Serbia's] top political leadership (Gojkovic 1995:x).

Furthermore, quite a few prominent intellectuals have held high political office in the Belgrade government, or in the main opposition parties which have not opposed, but rather endorsed the Greater Serbian project. Theo most prominent Serbian philosopher today, Professor Miailo Markovic, one of the authors of the Memorandum, has served as Vice-President of the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia. Dobrica Cosic has served as President of the rump Yugoslavia, while Professor Svetozar Stojanovic, another leading philosopher, was his advisor. Most of those who have been heading the opposition parties in Serbia are academics or prominent intellectuals: Professor Vojislav Seselj (Serbian Radical Party); Professor Dragoljub Micunovic, Professor Kosta Cavoski, and Dr. Zoran Djindjic (Democratic Party; Dr. Vojislav Kostunica (Serbian Democratic Party); Vuk Draskovic, a prominent writer (Serbian Renewal Movment); Professor Nikola Milosevic (Serbian Liberal Party). The situation is quite similar west of the Drina river, in the "Serb Republic" in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Until recently it was headed by Dr. Radovan Karadzic, a psychiatrist and a poet, while his deputy was Professor Nikola Koljevic.

This, of course, is just the Serbian intellectual elite; there a re also countless others, who have been no less busy in the same national enterprise at the local level, both in Serbia and in the occupied parts of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The overwhelming majority of Serbia's political intellectuals have supported and promoted the Greater Serbian ideology and the war waged in order to achieve its goals.

Why? This is, obviously, a large question that does not allow for a straightforward and general answer. But, an important part of the answer is suggested by the term "political intellectuals." Their social role, unlike that of cultural intellectuals, is that of producing and disseminating politically relevant ideas, i.e., ideologies. And their social status, unlike that of cultural intellectuals, is based on their performance of this role. As Lewis S. Feuer puts it, political intellectuals are ideologists: a social group "which vies for political power and privilege, and whose avenue to power is ideology." Accorodingly, "their `ideas' are much more the by-products of the laws of intellectual fashion; their concern is less with the truth of things than with ideas as weapons; their `thoughts' are usually predictable because they conform to the impersonal laws of ideological fashion; their categories are akin to a modish vocabulary, attachments to the transient vogue rather than the product of individual experience and reflection" (Feuer 1975:202). In Serbia in the years preceding the breakup of Yugoslavia and the collapse of communism in Europe, their ideology of Greater Serbian nationalism was the obvious alternative to the old communist ideology, to which most of them used to subscribe: it was both intellectually fashionable and politically promising. (Why that was so is, of course, a further question beyond the scope of this paper.) Moreover, the ideological switch was not very difficult to accomplish, given certain important similarities between the two ideologies (such as radical collectivism, inherent militancy, or the messianic impulse).

To be sure, not all of Serbia's political intellectuals have supported the Greater Serbian project. Some have publicly reflected the Greater Serbian ideology, and protested against the war waged to implement it and the crimes perpetrated in its course. It took courage to do so, for their protests have been met with intolerance and outright hostility. They have been branded "bad Serbs," traitors, and the like both by the authorities and state-run media, and by many of their fellow-intellectuals. Most of them are members of the Belgrade Circle, a group of several hundred intellectuals that, despite persistent and valiant efforts, has failed to exert any great influence on the public opinion in Serbia. (So have other anti-war groups and organizations.) What they have succeeded in doing are two things. Individually, each one of them has said what, morally speaking, needed to be said, and in so doing safeguarded his or her personal integrity at a time of an unprecedented moral disgrace of their nation. Collectively, they have demonstrated that the Greater Serbian ideology may be the dominant, but not the sole, uncontested option available to Serbs - that one can envisage a different Serbai (Colovic & Mimica 1992, 1993).

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