Historians at Novi Sad Plenum: THE BREAKUP OF YUGOSLAVIA DUE TO THE REJECTION OF THE DEMOCRATIC SOLUTION
“Vojvodina remembers, for a long time and is mostly silent, for too long now. But such humiliations, apart from the time of occupation, are hardly comparable to any period of peace in the last two centuries that it has been on the historical stage”, said historian Milivoj Bešlin, moderator of the second panel “Is the breakup of Yugoslavia over?”, which was held last night as part of the Novi Sad Plenum QUO VADIS BALKAN?, organized by the Regional Academy for Democratic Development (AAD) and the Centre for Civic Education (CCE), with the support of the European Fund for the Balkans (EFB).
Bešlin pointed out in the introduction that Novi Sad is the capital of culture this year, while these days the city is mutilated by hundreds of drawn letters Z – the Nazi symbol of Putin’s killing of Ukraine. “As if it’s not enough that Novi Sad is chained to the crime of those who rule it and who have turned it into a dystopian image of a faceless Soviet post-industrial city in the province, there are also 21st-century swastikas written all over the city and prominent banners of ultra-right parties and organizations”, he explained.
Bešlin emphasized that the key factor of instability in the Western Balkans is clear, that in Montenegro Vučić’s people are constantly trying to provoke conflict, that Dodik is doing the same with the support of the authorities in Belgrade, that Macedonia has warned through Pendarovski’s words that official Belgrade is repeating the scenario from 2017 and the violence in the Assembly, that the north of Kosovo is constantly under attack, and that even though Croatia is in NATO, it is not exactly left aside.
He thereby opened up the central question of the panel – how, a quarter of a century after the end of the tragic wars in the Balkans, are we once again in a situation where we are talking about the outcome of the war in the region?
Historian Latinka Perović indicated that Yugoslavia was looking for a form of sustainability immediately after the Second World War and that since 1948 it has been implementing these changes without affecting only the key features of state socialism and the rule of the Communist Party. The turning point happened in 1972, and this year marks half a century since the fall of the liberals, which is a topic that has been kept silent for a long time, but, as she stated, that has changed today because it is no longer a suppressed topic.
“The turnaround in 1972 led to a purge in the ranks of the Communist Party and the expulsion of representatives of the generation that was in favour of the modernization of the state, its opening to the world, internal democratization and the withdrawal of the party from positions of power”, pointed out Perović and reminded that in the mid-1980s, two solutions, two concepts of Yugoslavia were formulated – Slovenian and Serbian. Slovenia was in favour of further democratization, decentralization, turning to the world, taking into account the international framework, which changed with the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of the bipolar world.
“On the other hand, a consensus of the intellectual and political elite and the masses was reached in Serbia, and it went towards the solution of the Yugoslav question with the change of the Constitution, which would enable either the dominance of Serbia in Yugoslavia or would require the change of internal borders and rounding off the ethnic space of the Serbian state. That concept directly led to war, because borders could not be changed anywhere peacefully”, stated Perović, elaborating that it was precisely such politics that aimed to encircle the Serbian national space, large-state nationalist politics, that was the cause of terrible crimes during the 1990s and that is the kind of politics that still destabilizes the region and causes mistrust among other nations and countries in the neighbourhood.
Historian Husnija Kamberović considers that it is necessary to distinguish between what the political elites did in all republics, assessing that the last communist elite in Bosnia and Herzegovina was strongly pro-Yugoslav oriented, but was not ready for the necessary changes.
“I also spoke with Raif Dizdarević about this, and he confirmed to me that as more time passes, he too realizes that, at the end of the eighties, they did not acknowledge at all that changes were necessary,” said Kamberović and added that the communist elites in B&H were not ready for all that would follow. According to him, there was even a belief in B&H when the war in Croatia was going on that it would not spread to B&H.
Kamberović sees the key to the solution for B&H in the fact that the political elites in both Serbia and Croatia understand that they cannot and should not take care of the Serbs and Croats in B&H, but rather leave matters to be resolved in Bosnia and Herzegovina itself. He underlined that in B&H there is fear of war, not only among people who survived the war, but also among those who have no direct war experience.
“Milorad Dodik talks that he does not want war, but he advocates unification with Serbia. And it is known that there can be no change of borders without conflict. So, we are again in a similar situation as at the end of the eighties of the 20th century”, said Kamberović and emphasized that there can be no winners in any future war in B&H, just as there were no winners in the last war either. He assessed the situation in B&H as dramatic and dangerous because there are still some groups that want war.
“I don’t think that many at the top of the state believed in the war, and I think that many did not want to believe in it for a long time. However, many foreigners in Yugoslavia, many countries around Yugoslavia, of which Germany is one example, invested endlessly, had good relations and did not want that type of disintegration. They did not want chaos, especially until the Soviet Union came to the brink of collapse with an attempted coup against Gorbachev, after which the paradigm began to change”, said the Croatian historian Tvrtko Jakovina, who stressed that Yugoslavia “could have survived, with minor or major internal problems, but its end came when the foreign policy ring broke”.
Yugoslavia did not have to disintegrate, especially not in such a bloody way, but it did not collapse because there was no solution to maintain it, but because the only solution that made it sustainable was rejected, which is the democratic one, essentially a confederal arrangement, was concluded on the panel. Also, it was assessed that the statements of Aleksandar Vulin and other Serbian politicians about the “Serbian world” are dangerous because, as the speakers underlined, there is no shifting of borders without wars, and they always lead to huge casualties.