PAGE 2/3


NO 103-104

PAGE 2/3 ::: 1 | 2 | 3

INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 103-104 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 103-104

January - February 2007



By Dubravka Stojanovic

In the past weeks, particularly since Marrti Ahtisaari presented his plan, we are witnessing the most incredible statements by Serbian officials dealing with the future status of Kosovo. Be they "imaginative" or "threatening" all those statements have a common denominator: the wording that prepares the Serbian public for non-acceptance of the international community's decision. And once again, like in the past, all those statements are referring to an imaginary Kosovo only. No one (except for LDP MPs at the parliamentary session when the Resolution on Kosovo was adopted) even bothered to touch on concrete political issues that will raise under a wild assumption that Kosovo remains a part of Serbia. No one bothered to explain how would, say, the police and the army enter Kosovo - the more so since only the presence of troops imply real sovereignty from the viewpoint of a nation state. No one bothered to explain how the citizens of Kosovo would be voting in some future, imaginary elections for the Serbian parliament, or how the Serbian elite would accept Albanian MPs, let alone ministers in the governments to be. What the educational system would be like, how would the Battle of Kosovo or the Balkan wars be interpreted in textbooks? Would that be in the spirit of "one and only truth," "our truth," as the incumbent educational authorities put it? All these years, ever since Kosovo has been actually separated from Serbia, I have never heard anyone elaborating on those topics - for no one has ever referred to the population of Kosovo. The subject of all those numerous speeches is nothing but "Kosovo," the Kosovo that is practically non-existent - the Kosovo without people.

In my view, this is where Serbia in fact lost Kosovo. For Serbia's political and intellectual elite, Kosovo has never implied people - just territory, something out of place and time, and out of reality. As if it is the 1389 battlefield without people! This is why the debate on whether Kosovo will be lost in 2007 or was lost in 1999 seems senseless to me. Relying on relevant information, I take that happened in 1912 - five centuries after the famous battle - when the region was incorporated into the Serbian state.

In 1912, in the aftermath of the First Balkan War, Serbian troops moved to the territory of Kosovo. Once the peace agreement was signed Kosovo (along with Sandzak and Macedonia) was turned over to Serbia. Newspapers of the time were brimming with partriotic enthusiasm - Kosovo was revenged, Prince Lazar's promise was met, the Serbian medieval state was renewed! Hardly anyone could have resisted such a surge of patriotism, not even the cynical Jovan Skerlic. And everything was marked by patriotism and triumph until the question of the governance in the region - precisely the same question that remains without an answer today - was raised. The People's Assembly of the time launched a most interesting debate - a debate we should reconsider if we want to give a serious thought to a most difficult issue: how come that Serbia, in less than one century, managed to lose a part of its territory, the part its highest officials now label sacred land?

At the time of the debate, in 1913, the topic was titled "arrangement of new territories." The ruling party of Nikola Pasic advocated a special, military-police regime for the newly acquired territories. Over the parliamentary and public debates governmental officials we arguing that inhabitants of those regions were insufficiently civilized and politically ignorant. Serbia's democratic constitution, they said, cannot be applied in those territories since their population would not know how to exercise the rights it guarantees.MPs were worrying what would happen should the population of "new territories" enjoy equal voting rights, and about the impact that would have on the relations between Serbia's political forces. Some were uttering their fears that such situation could jeopardize the regime. When representatives of the opposition asked the government about its intents to consult the people of "new territories" on the mode of governance, one of the ruling party's most influential ideologist, Stojan Protic, replied, "We have asked them nothing when we were liberating them. I am sure our brothers would allow us to govern them in our way for some six or seven years, the more so since we know more about governance and are older and more mature than they are. We have no reason whatsoever to ask anyone about anything."

The issue split the political scene of the then Serbia. Basically conservative "progressionalists" wanted the constitution immediately enforced in the annexed territories and argued for convening "Big Assembly" that would revise the 1903 constitution. The Serbian democracy undergoes a test, they said, and the Serbs must continue defying the thesis about "superior and inferior races" since they themselves were suffering the consequences of the latter. Opposing the government, the Independent Radical Party published its stands in its mouthpiece, Odjek (Echo): "The Radicals have declared one half of Serbia their backyard. Their minister of the interior said one half of Serbia was not Serbia, and now they govern that part that is not Serbia at will." The Social Democrats were the loudest of all. Their mouthpiece, Radnicke Novine (Workers Papers), wrote, "One thing is certain: when it entered those territories Serbia should not have moved backwards but forwards. In other words, instead of Turkey's false constitutionality it should have immediately introduced real constitutionality, replaced the patriarchal-primitive municipal self-government by a modern one and made the population feel they have joined Europe. Serbia should not have treated them as an aggressor." Reacting to the government's metaphor "democracy is like swimming" and argument that the population of "the new territories simply knows not how to swim," the Social Democrats asked from the parliamentary rostrum, "How shall a child learn how to swim if you don't allow him into water?"

This though-provoking and interesting legal debate in the Serbian parliament in 1913 turned futile - a decree on "new territories" imposing a special military-police regime on Kosovo was adopted by the majority of vote. That meant that the Serbian constitution did not apply to these territories and that citizens were not invested with the same rights as the citizens of Serbia proper. Apis's conspirators assembled in the Crna Ruka (Black Hand) organization played a key role in having the decree adopted. They were actually channeling Serbia's foreign policy and were, in many aspects, stronger than the Radicals' government - the one they themselves had enthroned after the assassinations of the rulers of the Obrenovic dynasty. In a way, the newly annexed territories were their loot and they were given free rein to rule them.

Another problem for the population /of the newly annexed territories/ was that police, military and civilian officers would not serve there by their own free will. They were usually assigned to Kosovo by punishment. In other words, the officers serving in Kosovo were those who had been punished in Serbia, mostly for corruption or ill-treatment of prisoners. Practically, the entire administration was composed of offenders who ruled without any control whatsoever. The WWI broke out soon. Then a new state was created - the state that has never managed to harmonize different legal and social systems that had merged into it by historical coincidence. Therefore, it was only in the second half of the 20th century that the population of the "new territories" attracted the attention of the ruling circles.

That is why it seems today that Kosovo was "lost" even before it was "won." It was "lost" because of the manner in which it was perceived, because of the place the mythmaking national ideology assigned to it, and because of the ruling elite's incapability to accept and comprehend the realities. In their bicenntenial endeavor to "liberate and unify the Serbian nation" and create a big nation state, Serbian politicians failed to rule those territories in a way that would make their "new" citizens accept Serbia for their state. That was the problem with the "extended" Serbia in 1913 and that was the problem with all Yugoslavias that ensued. The attitude towards "the other" has been excluding tolerance and equality, which only deepened the gap between those claiming "superiority" and those on whom "inferiority" was constantly imposed.

Perception of state is still in the pre-modern stage in Serbia. Therefore, the relationship between a regime and its subjects has never been redefined along the lines of modernity. The question, "Are you ready to die for your homeland?" has never been replaced by the question, "What has by homeland done for me?" The state has not reached the phase of self-perception in which it is nothing but a provider of services to citizens - satisfied citizens. Anyway, the same as Kosovo, the state remained an abstraction. Policymakers have never recognized that a state's progress depends on the progress its citizens make, rather than the other way round. Serbia's ruling elites have never followed the Social Democrats' advice of 1913 - to do something for citizens so as to make them feel like citizens of Serbia.

It seems, therefore, that we are witnessing the end of a policy - the end of the policy that was ideologically established in the beginnings of the modern Serbian state, rather than the end of the policy marking the Milosevic era. Kosovo' final curtain is a denouement of such national ideology, the end result of the longstanding perception of "oneself," "the other," the time and the space. It is a final defeat of the stubborn misunderstanding of the world and historical circumstances, and the denial of self-criticism. It is the end of a national arrogance, the end of a distorted concept of reality.

As it seems, Dobrica Cosic could be right. He was in the right when maintaining that Serbia was victorious in wars and a loser in peacetime. However, this is not to be ascribed to "the injustice done by great powers," as he put it, but to the fact that Serbia never knew how to "arrange peace," and never knew how to profit from "the wars won" by the means of a well-thought-out and civilized policy. It has never "adopted" what it "won."


NO 103-104

PAGE 2/3 ::: 1 | 2 | 3







Copyright * Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia - 2008

Web Design * Eksperiment