The former Yugoslavia can look like a dense maze of political strife, inter-ethnic conflict, alleged atrocities, foreign intervention, nationalistic fervour and neo-liberal experiments. But the region is also home to germinal leftist movements and thinkers, offering fresh ideas on the past and for the future.
I recently spoke with Andrej Grubacic an activist thinker, noted writer and assistant professor of History at the University of Belgrade.
Judy Rebick: Tell me a bit about your political activities.
Andrej Grubacic: I am engaged in many grassroots initiatives in Yugoslavia and in several international projects. It is difficult to summarize, really! At the moment, my priority is to finish the book I am writing, titled Globalization of Poverty: Introduction to Global Economy. Many articles and lectures are waiting ahead.
Judy: What is your attitude toward the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic?
Andrej: I have written a lot about Milosevic. First, we must understand that the the reign of Milosevic was a syndicate of privileges that was only there to steal and rob. Describing the Milosevic regime as socialist or internationalist is not only absurd but also dangerous. This grants his regime a positive ideological connotation that it never had.
On the other hand, The Tribunal in The Hague is an ideological institution whose validity I do not recognize. Whatever acts of genocide Slobodan Milosevic may have committed crimes against humanity or war crimes the process against him runs counter to international criminal law and presents a dangerous precedent.
Judy: Can you say more about this?
Andrej: The usual procedure would have been to try Milosevic on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Instead, he was, with the aid of foreign intervention, transferred to The Hague and brought to trial before an unacceptable special Tribunal.
The opponents of special courts so-called ad hoc courts should deny the very existence of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. This court was created in a completely unacceptable manner by the U.N. Security Council, against U.N. policy, and is opposed by representatives of certain countries, such as Brazil.
The rules governing the Tribunal offend several legal principles. The Tribunal regulates its own functioning. It has used and abused this disputable power to such an extent that it has changed its own governing statute twelve times between February 1994 and July 1997.
Judy: And what is the left's attitude on this?
Andrej: I am quite sure that leftists in Yugoslavia agree with this position. We are trying to escape the mentality of taking sides by maintaining distance both from Milosevic and from this farcical Tribunal in The Hague.
Judy: How did such violent inter-ethnic conflict develop in a part of the world where people had been living in harmony? Are there lessons here for the rest of us?
Andrej: You are pushing your luck by asking a historian to answer this question!
Yugoslavia was a country built on good intentions and terrible mistakes. The Communist regime tried an artificial suppression of national feelings the killing of collective memory, if you like. It was a noble attempt, a noble intention. But I am afraid that suppressing history is not the best way to build harmony.
My understanding is that we have to recognize two predominant factors: outside influence on the one hand, and local structures of power on the other.
It is true that the local elite used retrograde nationalist sentiments in its conquest of power. We would need time to explore the details. But if one historical theme should be emphasized for its effects on Balkan history and for its persistence over time this theme is precisely outside hegemony and not ethnic hatred. Outside forces, far more than internal rifts, have traditionally been decisive determinants of regional history.
Zbigniew Brzezinski is a leading American strategic thinker. In his book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives, he describes co-optation of foreign political elites as an important method for furthering U.S. global hegemony. In my opinion, this is the key to understanding the Yugoslavian tragedy.
I would also like to draw your readers' attention to the formidable analyses of Alex N. Dajkovic published on ZNet.
Judy: So what are the politics of the region now?
Andrej: Two main currents are shaping the social and collective mentality in Yugoslavia.
One is the neo-liberal current. And many leftists decided to follow this fashionable (and lucrative) political and cultural option. The other one is a vulgar nationalistic current. Both models of thought employ whole armies of intellectual managers who are trying to promote neo-liberal or nationalistic values.
So we, the few leftists here, are trying to develop another model that would stand on the other side of neo-liberalism and nationalism. A third option, so to speak. I am sorry to say that we are very lonely in this endeavour.
It is a classical transitional story. In Serbia, neo-liberal globalization that is, neo-liberalism as an ideology of corporate globalization is being promoted by the new authorities formed around a political project named Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS). They are moving to privatize the big state institutions created by previous regimes. Under pressure from the usual international suspects, they have already privatized the public banking system. Now the big electrical utility is slated for privatization as well.
Judy: A social forum in Croatia has just been announced to coincide with IMF meetings there.
Andrej: I am really looking forward to this. I think this meeting is a first step toward developing an alternative to neo-liberal capitalism. Many outstanding people will attend this conference.
Our comrades from Croatia aim to create a wide social coalition that can offer alternatives to corporate globalization, capitalism and neo-liberalism. A coalition that can work toward general economic, political and social equality. The forum is being organized by a wide range of people and groups from anarchist groups to human right groups, from feminist groups to anti-militarist groups. Organizers are also negotiating with trade unions, so important to the process of fighting global and local problems.
This is all very new in Croatia and in the Balkans as whole. Your readers can get more information from firstname.lastname@example.org
Judy: Are there social movements in the Balkans, and in other former Soviet Bloc countries, that correspond to movements in the West or the South?
Andrej: Yes, quite a few.
We have introduced the idea of creating a Southeastern Europe Social Forum a network of grassroots initiatives from the region. Many groups are active in Slovenia, Croatia, Yugoslavia, not to mention Greece.
ATTAC Hungary was recently launched to press for democratic control of international financial markets. I was there, and the energy was impressive. So I am sure that the idea of a Social Forum for the Balkans, or for Southeastern Europe, is a serious and promising one.
I hope that this region, so far neglected, will become an important part of our movement in the very near future.