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NO 103-104

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


Helsinki Charter No. 103-104

January - February 2007


Army and State


By Stipe Sikavica

In ex-Yugoslavia the army was also marking its "days," i.e. holidays, but that matters no longer today. Why is it so? It matters not, they say, because that was not a Serbian but some alien, that is a Yugoslav army. Well, it makes no difference that this foreign army included "representatives of all our peoples and nationalities" rather than just Serbs and Montenegrins (i.e. Serbs from Montenegro by nationalistic code). And it makes no difference that it were the Serbs who in every sense (in numbers, commanding posts, etc.) dominated all the armies of South Slavs' common state whatever those armies and that state were called throughout history.

Of course, we can buy such thesis if we want to delude ourselves. In other words, we can buy what patriotic interpreters of Serbian history claim over here. They (Serbian intellectuals operating under extremely patriotic voltage) are hallucinating again: the Yugoslav idea (and practice, in particular) annihilated all benchmarks of Serbs' national identity, and their rich and glorious warring tradition, they say. Nicely phrased, indeed. Are they really that naïve to take their phrases could possibly hush up all those heinous crimes committed by Serbian regular and para-military formations since the army at war was fighting under some Yugoslav, communist and the like banners rather than under the Serbian?

But be that as it may be, on February 15 the Army of Serbia staged a variety of events to mark its first "anniversary" by the latest calendar of military and national holidays. Military experts - including Lt. Col. Ivan Mijovic, deputy director of the Military Museum in Belgrade - explained that the Army Day had not even been marked till the day the Serbian army melted into the Yugoslav army. All that used to be marked until that date were "the days" of various units and institutions, according to them. And, according to those interpreters of national history, the fact that the Army Day and the Day of the Serbian-Montenegrin Army did not matter at all since they honored neither the Serbian state nor the Serbian army!

Back on December 12, 2006, President Boris Tadic, in keeping with his constitutional prerogatives, put his signature under the decision proclaiming February 15 the Serbian Army Day. The date was not chosen at random. According to Gen. Petar Radojcic, head of General Staff's Human Resources Department, the decision resulted from a months-long probe of "Serbia's rich history of wars" that included "all commands, units and institutions of our Army." As many as 23 dates were short-listed from "the rich inventory." And it were the experts from the Military-Historical Institute and the Military Museum who put forth to "the authorized bodies" the date that was "generally known and deeply rooted in the collective consciousness of the Serbian people."

So, February 15, "spiritually determined by 'Sretenje' /a date taken from Serbian folklore marking at the same time the startup of the First Serbian Uprising/" figures at the same time as the Day of the Statehood of the Republic of Serbia. "After centuries of Turkish bondage the First Serbian Uprising introduced organized forms of armed forces that irrevocably led to the creation of the Serbian army. It was the First Serbian Uprising that sowed seed of a modern Serbian state. 'Sretenje' merges identities of the army and the state and thus renews their closest association," said Gen. Radojcic proudly.

The armies of most modern states do not have holidays of their own but conspicuously partake in marking national holidays. Gen. Radojcic just confirmed the predominant, traditional belief in Serbia: a state cannot do without an army, and an army cannot do without a state. This favorite slogan of the advocates of Serbia's conservative military thought was also close to the heart of Vojislav Kostunica in his once capacity as a head of the General Staff of the army called the Army of Yugoslavia. (True, the army's Serbian attribute was rather cautiously emphasized at the time.)

The following curiosity is worthy of the Guinness Book of World Records. The Army of Yugoslavia (renamed the Army of Serbia and Montenegro with the formation of the state union) has marked June 16 for 11 years though the holiday itself was non-existent from the legal point of view. Namely, the decision proclaiming June 16 the Army Day was signed on April 26, 1994 by the then president of the FR of Yugoslavia, Zoran Lilic. It provided that it "enters into force" on the day of its publication in the Official Army Gazette. Due to the sluggishness of the army bureaucracy the decision has never been publicized in the said bulletin, while the army was nevertheless marking the holiday that was legally invalid. But the fact bothered neither the state nor the army itself. Djorovic Lakic, retired colonel and former military justice, was among the few pointing out this absurdity. His argumentation, however, was of no avail. He was also among few army professionals who dared speak up of war crimes committed by members of armed forces. This is why he was given walking papers under summary procedure.

New symbols and insignia were launched in the wake of the new army holiday. They mirror the "identity" that "after long time merges the army, people and the church" (Radojcic). That's OK so far. But not even the new insignia or newly designed uniforms (if any) can help the army to shun the recent belligerent past that heavily hypothecates Serbia's armed forces regardless of their name, holiday or badges. Unfortunately, Serbia has not yet produced a president, a premier, a minister or a general who would at least make an "inventory" of Serbian evildoings and express regret to the victims coming from other ethnicities, let alone genuinely, courageously and without reserve and conditioning ask forgiveness from the victims of the Serbian military machinery both incumbent politicians and generals would nothing to do with under the pretext that the warring machinery was Yugoslav rather than Serb! Actually, asking forgiveness would by itself stand for a fundamental reform exceeding all sorts of the Army's reorganizations and "double shuffles." For, that would be a reform in people's minds!

But let's go back to the beginning. Let's take a look at the excerpt from the interview Suzana Rajic (of the 20th Century National History Department, Faculty of Philosophy, Belgrade University) gave to the "Defense" military magazine on the occasion of the Army Day:

\"...All that had been done in 19th and early 20th century to heal the wounds inflicted by the first break of the continuity of the Serbian statehood was annulled by the developments in 1918 and onwards. The Yugoslav idea and, later on, communism destroyed Serbian state and national being the most. Till 1918 the Serbs had been a model and a beacon to all Balkan nations but turned the biggest losers in the Balkans in the late 20th century and at the beginning of the new millennium. Having naively sacrificed their state to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, the Serbs practically renounced the democratic state of Serbia. Today it is hard to attain the level of the state organization we have lost. The life in the Yugoslav state community was a decline for the Serbs, for they had joined it without a developed pattern of their national and cultural identity."

Her lament is far from being authentic. So many times we have listened or read its variations as performed by Serbian intellectual elites, both incumbent and past, and primarily by chorus-leaders of the Memorandum Serbia. And the same as other variations of the same lament this one seems benign at fist glance. However, reading between the lines reveals a deplorable nationalistic farce. Leaning on common sense alone one cannot but conclude the following from the premises held out:

Firstly, prior to joining the Yugoslav state had had a well-organized national state with a high level of democracy (which refers not just to the "Golden Age" of Serbian democracy when army officers were both creators of and "arch arbiters" in foreign and domestic policy matters that, for instance, Dr. Olga Popovic-Obradovic has so brilliantly dissected in her studies), while the rest (Slovenians and Croats) had only dreamed of their national states. Secondly, Serbs - naïve and Good Samaritans - have sacrificed all the benefits of a democratically well-arranged state to the advantage of others (namely, Croats and Slovenians), while they themselves, i.e. the masterminds of the Serbian policy, profited nothing from a common state. Thirdly, Serbs alone have joined the common state without "a developed pattern of their national and cultural identity" (as if Slovenians and Croats, rather than Serbs, enjoyed the benefits of a democratically well-arranged state). Fourthly, Serbs alone have experienced a decline (not by their own fault, of course), while the others nothing but prospered. Fifthly, the others are to blame for Serbs being "the biggest losers in the Balkans" at the beginning of the new millennium. And so on, and so on. All that boils down to the conclusion that the Serbs are victims! They are mostly victims of the world history, and just partially of their own naiveté and generosity!

The fact that the article was published in a military magazine is indicative enough. It primarily targets young officers and recruits at the time the Serbian national corps is once again homogenized on the ruins of the myth of Kosovo. Besides, there are no indications whatsoever that the awareness about the necessity of fundamental reforms has prevailed in the Army though Serbia joined the Partnership for Peace recently.


Stipe Sikavica


NO 103-104

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