Desimir Tosic died on 7 February 2008, in John
Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, aged 88. He was a unique and somewhat
unconventional figure in modern Serbian history. Tosic was a politician who
placed ideas and ideals above personal and material gain. He was a contemporary
of Yugoslavia's turbulent life and its death(s), but wrote about Yugoslav
history and politics with an honesty, balance, critical stance and deep
knowledge rarely found among professional historians.
Dejan Djokic is lecturer in history at Goldsmiths College, London. He was formerly lecturer in Serbian and Croatian studies at the University of Nottingham. He is the editor of Yugoslavism: Histories of a Failed Idea (C Hurst, 2003 and University of Wisconsin Press, 2003), and author of Elusive Compromise: A History of Interwar Yugoslavia (C Hurst, 2007)
Also by Dejan Djokic on openDemocracy:
"Serbia: one year after the October revolution" (17 October 2001)
"A farewell to Yugoslavia" (10 April 2002)
"Serbia: monarchy and national identity" (30 May 2002)
"Ex-Yu rock" (6 August 2002)
"Serbian presidential elections" (17 September 2002)
"A conflict of loyalties: 1999 and 2003" (6 March 2003)
"The assassination of Zoran Djindjic" (13 March 2003)
This obituary was first published (with proper diacritics on personal names and titles) in EastEthnia on 9 February 2008
Although formally a politician, he was more of an enlightened educator whose ideas often clashed with the party line, despite his unquestioned overall loyalty to the Democratic Party (DS), of which he had been a member since the late 1930s. He was a Christian believer who was among the loudest critics of the Serbian Orthodox church and its role in politics. As an émigré he was equally critical of both the then communist regime and of backward-looking emigration; following his return to Serbia in 1990 his friends included many former communists. One of them was Draza Markovic, a leading communist politician in pre-Milosevic Serbia, with whom Tosic went to high school in the 1930s. Another former leading communist, and later the first important east European dissident, Milovan Djilas, was a figure Tosic admired and wrote about.
Born in 1920 in Bela Palanka, southern Serbia, in what was then the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Tosic moved to Belgrade in the 1930s to complete his secondary education. The capital was politically highly polarised at the time, but Tosic joined the centrist Democratic Party. The second world war and the German invasion interrupted his studies at Belgrade University's law faculty. During the war, Tosic supported General Mihailovic's resistance movement, like many of his fellow Democrats, but already at the time and even more so in his post-war writings, he was critical of both Mihailovic and Tito; he was also highly critical of the role of the monarchy in the interwar period, highlighting the counterproductive policies of King Aleksandar and his "successor" Prince Pavle. As a Mihailovic supporter, Tosic was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and sent to work in Germany. He survived the war only to find himself as a refugee in France. There he met his future wife Coral, with whom he eventually settled in her native Britain in 1958.
After a decade of waiting and months of
intense manoeuvring, Kosovo's assembly unilaterally declared independence on
the afternoon of 17 February 2008. The capital Pristina lit up with celebratory
fireworks, reflecting the mood of the Kosovar Albanians who form 90% of the
population. The United
States, France and Britain recognised or announced their intention to recognise the new state on the day after the declaration, and a number of European Union countries will follow. But there are
forces adamantly against independence: most immediately, the Serbs living in enclaves
within Kosovo where they form a majority, notably around the northern town of
Mitrovica; Serbia, which to no one's surprise has declared the assembly's move null and void; and
Russia, which is pressuring the United Nations to reject Kosovo's statehood (and which will use its Security Council veto to block Kosovo's membership of the UN).
Timothy William Waters teaches international law at Indiana University (Bloomington), and helped prepare the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic for crimes in Kosovo.
This article was written by invitation from openDemocracy
Convened in an extraordinary meeting on February 17, 2008, in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo,
Answering the call of the people to build a society that honours human dignity and affirms the pride and purpose of its citizens,
Committed to confront the painful legacy of the recent past in a spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness,
Dedicated to protecting, promoting and honoring the diversity of our people,
Reaffirming our wish to become fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic family of democracies,
The inconclusive result in in the first round of Serbia's presidential election on 20 January 2008 led to a second round on Sunday 3 February. Again, there was widespread fear that the extreme-right nationalism represented by the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and its candidate Tomislav Nikolic would score a decisive victory; and just as in the first round, an extraordinarily high turnout prevented that outcome. The incumbent president Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party (DS) squeaked through to re-election with 50,5% to Nikolic's 47,9%. In doing so Tadic has probably gained a bit of political autonomy in addition to his second five-year mandate, but nothing is secure.
The best-laid plans of the unpopular party in power came to nothing in the Serbian presidential election on 20 January 2008, mostly because the voters decided to surprise everybody by turning out in large numbers. In the immediate aftermath, the hadlines report that Serbian Radical Party (SRS) candidate Tomislav Nikolic "won" the first round against incumbent president and Democratic Party (DS) leader Boris Tadic with a 39.6% plurality of the vote to the 35.4% received by Tadic [it should be noted that these statistics are from the projections by the observer group, the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy [CeSiD]; the results reported by the Serbian electoral commission may be different, though probably not by very much). This, however, is a partial and misleading gloss on a more nuanced outcome which should be read against the background of current Serbian politics.
In 1991, as Yugoslavia was on the point of imploding, the Luxembourg foreign minister Jacques Poos spoke for many prominent Europeans when he proclaimed that "the hour of Europe has struck". The implication was clear - the then twelve-member European Community had a moral responsibility to intervene so as to prevent an escalation of conflict.
John O' Brennan is a lecturer in European politics and society at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUIM). Among his books are The Eastern Enlargement of the European Union (Routledge, 2006) and (forthcoming) The EU and the Western Balkans: Stabilization and Democratization through Enlargement (Routledge, 2008)Tragically, no substantive EU political engagement was attempted and Yugoslavia descended into an abyss of fratricidal ethnic cleansing which cost upwards of 250,000 lives. Today, as the government of Hashim Thaci formed after the November 2007 elections in Kosovo prepares to declare independence from Serbia, the future of the western Balkans looms as the most serious geopolitical issue facing the enlarged EU of twenty-seven member-states. How should the EU respond?
The many victims of the war on terror have included multilateralism. So damaging are the effects that 2008 could see an unravelling even of the achievements of the multilateral approach of the 1990s in the Balkans, the Caucasus and elsewhere. To avert this fate, in a period when the United States will increasingly be consumed by the presidential election race, the European Union in particular will be challenged to adopt a clearer and sharper sense of responsibility in potential conflict-zones.
Mary Kaldor is professor of global governance at the London School of Economics (LSE), and convenor of the human-security study group that reports to the European Union's foreign-policy chief Javier Solana
Among Mary Kaldor's many articles in openDemocracy:
"Iraq: a war like no other" (27 March 2003)
"Iraq: the democratic option" (13 November 2003)
"Safe democracy" (23 December 2004)
"Parallel politics in Iraq" (22 March 2005) - with Yahia Said
"Iraq: the wrong war" (8 June 2005)
"London lives" (7 July 2005)
"America's Iraq plight: old and new thinking" (13 February 2007)
"How to free hostages" (29 September 2004)
"Palestine's human insecurity: a Gaza report" (20 May 2007) - with Mient Jan Faber
Most immediately, there is a probability that Kosovo will early in 2008 declare independence - albeit in the slightly qualified form that follows the Martti Ahtisaari plan delivered to the United Nations in March 2007, with its call for "supervised independence" and a continuing international presence. But in any case, the declaration is likely to be followed by a spate of similar acts in other territories - the northern Serb part of Kosovo, Herzeg-Bosne (the Croatian mini-state in Bosnia-Herzegovina) or Republika Srpska (the Serbian entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina). The "frozen conflicts" in the south Caucasus are likely to see similar shifts, with possible independence moves - with encouragement from Russia - by Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh. So the formal break-up both of Bosnia-Herzegovina and of Georgia are possible in 2008.
The seeds of violence
The challenge of Kosovo will be a test-case for the European Union. Until now, the EU's efforts in eastern Europe and the Balkans have been relatively successful in avoiding the kind of instability that characterises large parts of Africa and the middle east or that is likely to follow the death of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan. With the reform treaty now in place and plans for a new security strategy underway, the EU needs to take a lead in managing the process of serial declarations of independence.
There is a real risk of spreading destabilisation in the Balkans and the Caucasus. The criminal/nationalist entrepreneurs who profited from the wars in the 1990s were never properly dealt with. On the contrary, they have been nurtured by the combination of nationalist governments, high unemployment and lawlessness. Governments in the region - in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania or Georgia, for example - are not simply (as the jargon has it) "weak states"; their weakness is sustained by what some have described as shadow networks of transnational crime and extremist ideologies. There has been an expansion of human-trafficking, money-laundering, and the smuggling of cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, and weapons over the last decade - much of it to satisfy European and American markets - and all in the face of international agreements, aid programmes and the presence of foreign troops and agencies.
These problems are the outward manifestation of unresolved economic, social and institutional problems which the international community - whose policy toward these regions has been dominated by a top-down approach designed above all to maintain stability - has failed to address. Political efforts have been focused on status; military efforts have given priority to separating forces and controlling heavy weapons; economic efforts have concentrated on economic growth, macroeconomic stability and control of inflation.
Among openDemocracy's articles on Kosovo and the future of the Balkans:
TK Vogel, "Kosovo: a break in the ice" (2 February 2007)
Marko Attila Hoare, "Kosovo: the Balkans' last independent state" (12 February 2007)
Vicken Cheterian, "Serbia after Kosovo" (18 April 2007)
Eric Gordy, "Serbia's Kosovo claim: much ado about..." (2 October 2007)
Paul Hockenos, "Kosovo's contested future" (16 November 2007)
Juan Garrigues, "Kosovo's troubled victory" (7 December 2007)
Meanwhile the entrepreneurs of violence have fed on the spread of grassroots populist nationalism and/or religious radicalisation that has exploited the frustrations arising from high levels of unemployment, high crime rates and human-rights violations, the trauma of past violence, and the weakness of civil society. For example, the Kosovo Liberation Army leader Hashim Thaci won the Kosovar elections of 17 November 2007, and (while the main current Serbian politicians are nationalist enough) there is a risk that the more extreme radical nationalist Tomislav Nikolic will do well in the Serbian presidential elections scheduled for 20 January 2008.
Violence will further strengthen the position of these "spoilers". The Ahtisaari plan for Kosovo envisages "decentralisation", which means in current conditions a kind of internal partition between Serb and Albanian municipalities. A new bout of ethnic cleansing will lead to the expulsion of Serbs from the southern part of Kosovo and of the few remaining Albanians in the north. Militant groups with names like the Albanian National Army or the Prince Lazar Army (named after the Serbian leader killed in the myth-encrusted battle of Kosovo in 1389) are already mobilising. The violence could spread to areas where there are neighbouring Albanian minorities, such as Macedonia and southern Serbia, as well as to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The tension will be worsened if, as is expected, a Serbian blockade of Kosovo is imposed; this would in particular stop electricity supplies. It is possible to outline similar scenarios in the south Caucasus.
A test for Europe
How will the international community respond to these developments? At the moment, as usual, the discussion is about status. The US will support the independence of Kosovo. The EU will be divided and Russia will oppose this outcome. Yet the real issue is how to protect ordinary people from the effects of these high-level manoeuvres. Nato forces are now trying to protect the borders of Kosovo instead of focusing on protecting both Serbs and Albanian at risk of ethnic cleansing and trying to maintain public security.
The EU is planning to send a rule-of-law mission, which is much needed. But who will provide alternative sources of electricity and jobs for Albanians and alternative sources of income for Serbs who are currently dependent on Belgrade and have no option than to obey Belgrade's dictates even if they might prefer to stay in Kosovo and live with their erstwhile neighbours? Above all, who is talking to ordinary people - among them Serbs, Albanians, Croatians, Georgians, Abkhazians, and Ossetians - all of whom long for peace and work, but whose voices and concerns are often appropriated by extremists?
Can the European Union respond to these challenges? Will it remain stuck in arguments for and against changes of status, or will it prove to have the resources and political will to protect people and communities?
Between October and December 2007, Bosnia has experienced a startling roller-coaster of events. A governmental crisis that sparked fears of war led to a completely unexpected rapprochement among bitterly divided nationalist parties. The first few months of 2008 will show whether or not Bosnia has finally achieved a breakthrough in its built-in, long-term political stalemate.
Due to the unwieldy political structure that was cobbled together as part of the Dayton peace agreement of November 1995, the Bosnian government comes to a standstill on a near-annual basis. The Dayton accord ended a devastating war that lasted from early 1992 to the end of 1995. The new Dayton constitution recognised two autonomous "entities" formed during the war: a Serb-controlled Republika Srpska (RS), and a Croat- and Muslim-controlled Federation. Many of the leaders of these entities were the very same officials who had prosecuted the three-way war. Where these leaders have departed, new figures who inherited the wartime separatist agenda have taken over.
Jovica Simic and Nazimi Mehmeti are the kind of neighbours that members of the international community in Kosovo want you to meet. The two men grew up together in the nondescript village of Konjuh, a twenty-minute drive from Pristina that can be accessed only via a bumpy dirt road. Both Simic, 57, and Mehmeti, 63, worked in factories before the 1999 war in which Nato forces succeeded in driving the Serbian military out of Kosovo. Their lives are certainly not extraordinary except for one thing - Simic is a Kosovar Serb while Mehmeti is Kosovar Albanian. The lifelong neighbours are also friends something that is very rare in Kosovo these days.
Bill Klinton Avenue in the centre of Pristina remains littered with advertisements of smiling candidates from the parliamentary elections of 17 November 2007. Beyond the grey Tetris-shaped communist-era buildings stand modern government ministries which fly, side by side, two flags: the blue-and-white of the United Nations and the black-and-red with its double-headed eagle motif which Kosovo has adopted (from Albania) as its own de facto flag. In the ministry of public works, a large picture of Ibrahim Rugova, Kosovo's deceased independence leader, adorns the façade.
It can be exasperating to hear people from the Balkans blame “foreign powers” with hidden agendas and geopolitical ambitions for their troubles, as if they themselves bear no responsibility for their fortunes. But it would be easier to refute this counterproductive thinking if it hadn’t so often been the case over history - and is the case today, particularly when it comes to Kosovo. The problem of determining the “final status” of a province that is still legally part of Serbia but whose population is 90% ethnic Albanian was always going to be difficult. What makes it even harder is that international policy toward the disputed territory is being driven by the interests of external actors rather than those of the people of Kosovo, including the Kosovar Serbs. The main obstacle to a settlement is that these powers - the United Nations, the European Union member-states, the United States, and Russia - are themselves deeply divided, for reasons that have little to do with Kosovo itself.
It seems like the Serbian government is escalating its rhetoric about the final status of Kosovo. But most of the noise is not being directed toward any of the parties to the negotiations. It is the sound of competing political parties talking to one another.
The Serbian government's rhetoric on Kosovo has been escalating over the past several weeks, and there have been a few pointed gestures. Foreign minister Vuk Jeremić demonstratively walked out on an after-dinner speech to be given by the former United Nations mediator Martti Ahtisaari. The government discussed formally notifying the UN Security Council that the United States advocacy of independence for Kosovo constituted a threat to the sovereignty of Serbia. The pejorative formulation that an independent Kosovo would be "the first Nato-state" began to be repeated in a number of public fora. There was a sustained exchange between officials from prime minister Vojislav Koštunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and President Boris Tadić's Democratic Party (DS) over whether Serbia ought to continue its efforts to join the Nato alliance, and at the party congress of the DSS, the party's platform was altered to oppose joining the alliance.
Camil Durakovic has every reason to be angry. In July 1995, the then 16-year-old boy was forced to leave his hometown of Srebrenica when it fell to the Bosnian Serb army. Along with two uncles and several male cousins, Durakovic tried to get to Tuzla through the Bosnian woods bursting over with thick green foliage - and grenades. Durakovic had been separated two years earlier from his parents who had fled to the hills above Srebrenica and he was raised "like brothers" with his cousins Alija, Asim and Mujic by his uncle Reuf.
It has been fifteen months since the death in The Hague of Slobodan Milosevic, the last of the 20th-century Balkan strongmen. The former leader of Serbia had been sent from Belgrade to face trial for war crimes on 28 June 2001, twelve years to the day after his speech at Gazimestan in Kosovo (on the 600th anniversary of the myth-encrusted battle of 1389) which formed the prelude to the decade of wars and the disintegration of Yugoslavia that followed.
If 28 June, St Vitus's day, thus constitutes a key symbolic date in the history of Serbia and the Balkans, the demise of Milosevic in March 2006 - with his trial unfinished and amid a swirl of rumour - has its own symbolic significance for the region. For it gave new life to a long-standing debate concerning the nature of political leadership in the Balkans, which in recent centuries has experienced more than its share of strongmen - from kings to generals to nationalist demagogues and communist-era tyrants. Pessimistic observers have suggested that we have not seen the last of the likes of Slobodan Milosevic, Nicolae Ceausescu, Enver Hoxha and Todor Zhivkov; that their political style is so thoroughly engrained in the Balkan psyche that it is only a matter of time before their successors reappear to drag the region back into political darkness.
"And the twelve points go to Serbia". The announcement of the representative of Bosnian television at the Eurovision song contest in Helsinki on 12 May 2007 may have echoed the voting choices of the citizens of many other European states, but the moment was still astounding for those who recalled the bitter enmity between the two countries in the wars of Yugoslav succession in the 1990s.
Equally striking was what followed. As the Finnish television cameras focused on the beaming young Serbian singer Marija Serifovic, bringing her closer to eventual victory in the competition, she delightedly responded by proffering a three-fingered salute. It was the very same salute that had been the trademark of the Serbian nationalist upsurge of the Slobodan Milosevic era, and thus a prominent symbol (for many Serbs as well as non-Serbs) of xenophobia and intolerance.
This week's editor
Heather McRobie is a regular contributor to 50.50
Heather McRobie is a regular contributor to 50.50