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        • Serbia and Hungary: Hammering Democracy
          • Publications

          • Autor: Marko Drajić
          • Serbia and Hungary: Hammering Democracy

          • Hungary is currently Serbia’s closest international partner. Bilateral relations between the two countries are no longer marred by any disputes and their political and economic interests increasingly coincide. The values underpinning the administrations of both countries have converged to ...

        • The Security Sector in a Captured State
          • Publications

          • Autor:
          • The Security Sector in a Captured State

          • Report on state capture in Serbia is BCSP genuine and pioneering work aiming to document and deconstruct ongoing process of state capture in the security sector through presentation of mechanisms, actors and consequences of this process.

        • The Security Sector in the State of Emergency: Testing Democracy
          • Publications

          • Autor: Isidora Stakic, Jelena Pejic Nikic, Katarina Djokic, Marija Ignjatijevic, Sasa Djordjevic
          • The Security Sector in the State of Emergency: Testing Democracy

          • This analysis by the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) concludes that during the 52 days it spent in a state of emergency, Serbia failed the test of democracy, thanks to a series of failings and irregularities in the conduct and control of the security sector.

        • The Masks Have Slipped: Serbia in a Geopolitical Pandemic
          • Publications

          • Autor: Isidora Stakic, Maja Bjelos, Marko Drajić
          • The Masks Have Slipped: Serbia in a Geopolitical Pandemic

          • Masks have slipped and the interests of Serbia’s foreign policy were exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. These interests are not based on the principles of common goods, but on mechanism for preserving the existing internal order. This is one of the conclusions in the foreign policy analysis ...

        • Crime in the Western Balkans Six at the Time of Coronavirus: Early Findings
          • Publications

          • Autor: Sasa Djordjevic
          • Crime in the Western Balkans Six at the Time of Coronavirus: Early Findings

          • Did organized crime groups continue with their activity at the time of Coronavirus, which trends in the criminal activities in the Western Balkans can be noticed in the first six weeks of the pandemic and which scenarios can be envisaged for the future, analyzed BCSP Researcher Sasa Djordjevic.

        Serbia and Hungary: Hammering DemocracyThe Security Sector in a Captured StateThe Security Sector in the State of Emergency: Testing DemocracyThe Masks Have Slipped: Serbia in a Geopolitical PandemicCrime in the Western Balkans Six at the Time of Coronavirus: Early Findings
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          Who fails to learn from history, is doomed to repeat it.
          Santayana

          I do not want to hear the answer - I have heard all the answers - I want to know to what question is this an answer!
          Old rabbi

          The effects of the French Revolution - that is a bit early to say!
          Chinese philosopher in the 1930s

           

          This is not a conference report - that will be competently made by others - but merely, upon request, my subjective impressions from a very memorable and very ambitious conference, trying to make a coherent picture (among several others possible) of what I heard, what I seemed to hear behind what I heard and what I heard that I did not hear. For this reason I have also abstained from attributing statements to the distinguished individual participants.

          First of all, the conference was a very ambitious one, trying to do two things at the same time: assessing the causes behind the violent dissolution of Former Yugoslavia and promoting national self-reflection and self-criticism with a view to seeking reconciliation and finding a better future. Of course these things can and should be related, but it is far from simple, since these two tasks may well pull in different directions, even if - or, perhaps, especially when the assembly consists of many of the best scholars from Former Yugoslavia, several of whom I also know to be concerned citizens, endowed with the courage to criticize their own regimes.

          The reason for a possible conflict is that the first task is about establishing truth and the second is related to establishing guilt or moral responsibility. These are different tasks: a court is not necessarily a good place to establish truth. First of all, it deals with the quilt of others, not of itself. Second, none of the adversarial parties may be very interested in truth; their job is to establish - or rebut - guilt. Third, even in the best case, the procedural rules of a court often have the effect that important parts of the truth are ruled out as irrelevant - and in the worst cases, hiding the truth about some things by focusing on others is the very task of the court. Fourth, the formula "beyond reasonable doubt", used in courts of different types, may be well suited to achieve popular legitimacy for the conclusions of the court; yet that is not the task of a scholar, and it is true for many of the scientific pioneers that it was beyond reasonable doubt among their contemporaries that they were wrong.

          It has been known since biblical times that it is easier to see the small faults of one's neighbour than one's own big faults. Nowadays we have an encompassing social science terminology to express this, such as "selective perception", "selective retention", "stereotyping", "cognitive dissonance", "tunnel vision", "pluralistic ignorance", "error of attribution", "group perception", "self-victimization", and so forth.

          This indicates that the task of seeking truth is at the same time particularly difficult and particularly important when a scholar is concerned with his or her OWN group, whether thought of in terms of state, nation, faith, etc. That is where wishful thinking is most likely to be effective, where group pressure is likely to be hardest, where mass media are most likely to be patriotically or corruptly or ignorantly or .... misleading. The conference testified that there are several scholars from different parts of Former Yugoslavia that are up to this challenge - I could only wish that there were a comparable readiness in the West to look self-critically at its role in and behind the conflicts in Former Yugoslavia.

          Yet even the best intentions and impressive scholarship may lead astray. In my ambition of stern self-criticism I may fall into the trap of moralizing, as distinct from the entirely legitimate task of passing moral judgment. It is also an old knowledge, put into social science terms by Durkheim, Simmel and others, that we NEED criminals or deviants in order to establish our own rectitude and collective identity - and that a society will therefore create them if they are not there. The problem is that this may lead to a focus on individual persons or organisations, about whom it is seen as relevant to pass moral (or legal) judgment, to the exclusion of structural and cultural factors where it is often seen as irrelevant. As game theory and game experiments show, one can create strategic situations where even aggressive people tend to cooperate - and others, where even angelic characters are likely to be adversaries, especially if they carry the heavy responsibility to make decisions on behalf of others, who will also suffer their consequences.

          There were several discussions about definitions: of "war", "conflict", "civil war", "aggression", "genocide", etc. Yet these were not the same discussions as one can hear among scholars dealing with the collection of systematic global data for the purposes of making comparative studies or more sophisticated statistical analyses of correlates and causes. There were strong undertones of cases to be made by getting this or that definition accepted, whether in legal or moral terms, whether in terms of one's own state coming in a better position or specific politicians and others being found guilty. My reflection was that it might be more useful to have these important moral and political discussions in the open rather than hiding them behind definitional issues.

          Let me now go from philosophising to substance. First of all, the contributions could be sorted into two main categories: those who dealt with the past, with the causes of the tribulations of the people in Former Yugoslavia, and those who were more directly future-oriented and discussed what things look like now and how they have to be changed tomorrow to make a better future possible. I say "directly", since there is no contradiction: many of the analyses of the past had immediate implications for what changes are called for.

          The speakers I heard at the conference (in the cases where I did not previously know this from personal acquaintance) obviously belonged to the relatively least nationalist (in the bad sense of the word) and most peace- and reconciliation-oriented groups in Former Yugoslavia. Yet this is far from any guarantee for unanimity. I have repeatedly experienced how those in different national groups that stood closest to each other were still far apart: Serbs and Croats in 1990, Serbs and Albanians in 1995, Macedonians and Albanians in 2001 - and for that matter Croats and Moslems, etc.

          That makes it interesting to note what there seemed to be general agreement about. First of all, there was nobody naive enough to believe that the whole conflict complex in Former Yugoslavia and the horrible ways in which it was acted out can be accounted for by referring to a single cause or two - that can be left to Western journalists and politicians. I am serious about this: if one of the contributing factors to make everything worse was the amazing ignorance among these groups about the most elementary facts on Former Yugoslavia, another such factor was that actors in Former Yugoslavia were unable to imagine the scope of this ignorance and therefore believed that Western actors knew what they were doing and drew (often unwarranted) conclusions from what the actual effects of Western actions to the intentions behind them.

          There also seemed to be a broad consensus that all national groups had been victims, even though often collectively exaggerated by themselves, but with two important additions. First, that one's own group has been victims does not mean that it has not also contained perpetrators, notwithstanding the widespread myths to this effect among different groups. Second, that we have all been perpetrators does not make us equally guilty: some groups had more of them than others, some leaders were worse than others. On the contrary, several speakers pointed at the causal role played precisely by these tendencies to "self-victimisation" and accompanying tendency to believe in "innocence by victimhood", or, even worse "justification by victimhood".

          One complex issue, perhaps made even more complex by varying terminology, was the role of relations between states and nations. In Former Yugoslavia we found everything: states fighting each other, nations at conflict and battles between states and nations. In International Relations, it is relatively clear how to define a state, but there is a surrounding uncertainty as to exactly when something becomes a state in the sense of international law, with the proclamation of independence and wide recognition (and in particular UN membership) as the two extreme time points between which to locate that - and this uncertainty was of great importance in the dissolution of Former Yugoslavia.

          Nation is by far the more complex and ambiguous concept: some traditions of thought (from the French Enlightenment) think of a nation as closely related to Patrie, that is the citizens or (loyal) inhabitants of a state, thus essentially making the concept analytically superfluous. Another tradition goes back to German Romanticism, thinking of a nation as a Volk, meaning a Kulturgemeinschaft (cultural community); in Herder's original version, common language was the criterion; later versions have added other dimensions of nationhood, sometimes also primordialism, and sometimes the idea that a nation must have a state if it does not already have one, which became a powerful legitimisation both for the engulfment of small states (thus creating Germany and Italy) and for ethnonational secession from existing states. Modern social science tends to think of a nation as an "imagined community", thus rejecting primordialism while leaving it as open empirical questions what combinations of (perceptions of) language differences, religious differences, state traditions and historical myths, territory and so forth that different such nations define themselves by at different time points - and also under what circumstances such nations seek independent statehood, various kinds of autonomy within a larger state or other arrangements.

          Nations may create states, states may create nations - with popular movements, chauvinistic intellectuals or manipulative politicians in intermediary roles - and within limits of possibility: for instance, the attempts at creating a Yugoslav nation from the Yugoslav state were soon given up when their limited success became demonstrably. Both have a tendency in crisis situations to relegate all other dimensions of collective or individual identities to secondary or even anathemized roles: so when they clash, there are great risks for explosion. We there is no reason to expect the relative roles of nations and states in creating each other to have been the same in Former Yugoslavia, nor was there any consensus on this or on the interplay with other radical ideologies, whether right wing, left wing or populist; in fact, most combinations have turned out to be possible, at least for a while.

          There was also a broad consensus that the former Yugoslav People's Army had played an important role, both by its strength (in terms of size and equipment as well as being one of the last Yugoslav institutions to survive for a while) and by its weaknesses (shrinking budgets, a leadership living in the past, its Yugoslavness collapsing by ethnonational centrifugalism and desertions). Some aspects of this complex role have already been mapped, others remain to discover, not least what role was played inside it and together with it by the secret services.

          Religion and churches or other organisations have played an important role in several respects: sometimes having great weight in national identity, sometimes as part of the problem (nationalist mobilisation, militance and blessing violence, various kinds of expansionism), sometimes as part of the solution (ecumenism, moderation, mediation). At the conference, the penetrating analyses mainly concerned one corner of this: the Serbian Orthodox Church as part of the problem, so many corners remain to study closer.

          It is not difficult to make a long list of dimensions that have two things in common: that they are generally known from statistical analyses to increase the risk of war inside a state - and that Former Yugoslavia had alarming values on them: ethnonational heterogeneity, historical traumas from previous violence, long and deep economic recessions, disagreements on fundamental issues such as constitutions, great interregional economic differences,.... So there was general agreement that Former Yugoslavia had a bad prognosis, even if this did not mean that a war was unavoidable. There is not yet any general agreement on exactly how bad the situation was on what dimension at what time point, nor about exactly how these different dimensions are related to each other, nor about exactly what relative weight they had in the destructive process.

          If religion can be part of the problem or part of the solution, the same is true for external intervention of different kinds by the so-called "international community". Some of us believed that it has generally tended to do more harm than good, Former Yugoslavia and most of the successor states being "collateral damage" to power struggles between East and West, within the EU, across the Atlantic, within individual great powers, etc., as well as more direct destabilisation efforts ordered by President Reagan or covertly carried out by Bundesnachrichtendienst at least since the early 1980s. Others maintained that it has at least occasionally played a positive role by stopping the worst massacres, even if it has no business trying to tell the regional actors what they should agree with each other and little success to show from such efforts. Others again had a more positive overall evaluation of such interventions, believing Western actors on their own words about their intentions. Much research remains to be done here, not least because any attempts at critical self-reflection are heavily discouraged in a West that tends to have the same slogan as one of Solzhenitsyn's stories: "We never make mistakes" - if anything, this conference was one among other indications that the prospects for critical self-reflection are better in Former Yugoslavia.

          In general I would maintain that the changes known as the end of the Cold War were bad news for Former Yugoslavia, no matter how good they looked by themselves. One reason for this is that they reduced the visible external threat and thereby the imperative to stick together and find further compromises rather than risking wars by secessions. Another reason was that Yugoslavia was increasingly seen as expendable by great powers and in particular USA.

          Given all these factors, two big questions were underlying the debate, occasionally also openly broached: Was there any way in which dissolution of Yugoslavia could have been avoided? And was here any way in which it could have taken place peacefully? Again there was no consensus, some among us being more optimistic on both the first and the second question, some more optimistic about the first and more pessimistic about the second, and some having difficulties to see how either result could have been achieved. But the questions probably need more specification, referring to exactly what situations and what possible circumstances they concern. Yet to the extent that learning from the past is needed, these remain very important questions. All the bloodshed and destruction, by regional actors as well as international ones, and all the "quick fixes" dictated by the West have not solved a single fundamental problem, unless we accept ethnic cleansing as a solution. The only clear winner is Slovenia (not as much as its leadership had believed - and de facto at the expense of everybody else) and the only other state where its continued existence with its present boundaries seems a safe bet is Croatia. All the others face the same two questions as Former Yugoslavia did: Can they be kept together? If not, is a peaceful dissolution possible? And who can play what roles in these respects?

          I have primarily dealt with the discussions on the past for several reasons. Most of the papers were in fact doing that - and many of them have direct bearings on the future. And whereas it may eventually be possible to approach some scholarly consensus on the past (but this will take much more time), the future is not a matter of scholarly consensus but of political opinions; what scholars can do in that capacity is at most to advice: about the nature of the present problems, about the obstacles that need to be overcome to solve them, about the mistakes others have made and how to avoid repeating them, about whether the scenarios presented are coherent and feasible, and so forth. And in these matters it will be more difficult for serious scholars to agree than on the past; after all, we also have political opinions and may well have different visions about what a desirable future would look like.

        • Tags: Yugoslavia, dissolution, violence, conflict, war, Balkan, nationalism, Security of Western Balkan
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