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Public lecture by Slavenka Drakulić: "Intellectuals as Bad Guys? The Role of Intellectuals in the Balkan Wars"

Critical Solutions
June 2014


May 15-19, 2014, Kyiv

International conference "Ukraine: Thinking Together" 

I’m very pleased, and it’s my pleasure to be here, and to be invited, because first of all I’m for the first time in Kyiv, in Ukraine. I’ve never been here before. I must say, I’m very curious about the city, but also I’m even more curious about people.  

I wanted to do the following: I want to tell you in a simplified way (because for the lecture I can’t go into details), simply what happened in Yugoslavia, because I think, many of you are too young even to remember it. I think Yugoslav wars for you are like ІІ World War to me, something that was long ago. And then discuss the role of intellectuals, because I think that is an important issue, and that in this situation that you are having now in Ukraine, you should have it on your mind.

I’m not actually going to lecture you about what should you do, how should you do etc. I’m speaking basically from the bottom up, from the everyday experience. So take it more like my reportage, so to say, more than any kind of theory.

But first let me tell you to supplement what you said, who I am. I am a writer, a journalist. I was born in Croatia and lived there until 1993. And then, mostly for the reasons that it was very difficult to work under the conditions that I found myself treated as some kind of a dissident (that is the opponent to the nationalism and war). And for the next 10 years I wasn’t able to publish in my own country. I was publishing abroad. But this is not important. Important is that I published three books about the communism and three books about the war. And perhaps at this conference I’m in the unique position to speak as someone, who is from Eastern Europe, and who lived through the war (not so many people can have this “fantastic” experience of living through the war, and I do not advise anybody to live through the war, if it doesn’t need be).

So, why speaking about “intelligentsia”? Oh, no, let me tell you first, what happened in Yugoslavia. Most of you, I think, were born after 1991. No? Ok. But you were babies in 1991, so you can’t really remember what happened. Yugoslavia was a socialist country. You know, I hope, you noticed that abroad, in the West, they call all those countries “communist countries”. And, of course, in countries themselves they call the regime “socialist”. But I mean, this got so much use (that expression “communist countries”) that I will be using it too. However, you know, it was called “socialist country”. So what happened in Yugoslavia? It was a socialist country that was outside of the block. It was outside of the block since 1948. It consists of six republics, had four languages and three religions. And it was a very complicated federal structure. But we lived in peace. And not only we lived in peace, but very much mixed ethnically. For example, before the war broke out in Bosnia, there were 35% of children from mixed marriages.

During the II World war something happened in Yugoslavia that was not mentioned later very much in our schoolbooks. And this was the civil war. There was an antifascist war, there also was a communist revolution with Tito, but there was also the civil was between Serbs and Croats, which had enormous consequences for the war to come in Balkans in former Yugoslavia. And it’s actually three wars we are talking about: the war in Croatia, the war in Bosnia, and the war in Kosovo. So we are talking about wars in Yugoslavia, not about one war. Of course, when it happened, everybody was absolutely shocked. All the world was shocked. Why? Because it was such an independent beautiful country with very good standard of living, with people living in peace together for about 45 years. So why did the war happened there? How come that this was the only country that did not have the “velvet” revolution ( separation without blood)?            

In Bosnia they have a list with close to a hundred thousand people killed. So now I speak about Bosnia, facts about Bosnia. In Croatia the number is about 10.000 dead. But then there’s about between 30.000 to 60.000 women been raped in Bosnia. It is just to give you the glimpses of the numbers. So it’s an enormous human tragedy. But how did this tragedy happen and why?

I remember Alija Izetbegović, who was at that time a president of Bosnia, and who in 1992, when Croatia was already in war, came on TV and said: “You see this building (and this was some sky-scraper). In this building, on the same floor, we have Bosnians, Muslims, we have Serbs, Croats living door-to-door with each other. Nobody can divide us”. Couple of months later they were divided.

I can’t really discuss all reasons, but in my personal view, there were several important things that happened that facilitated that war, so to say. First of all, the unresolved problem from II World War, and this is the real number of victims on both sides. I will mention only two topics that are very problematic, and still are problematic in our history. One this is Jasenovac, the concentration camp, where Croats (because Croats had the Independent state of Croatia (NDH), a fascists  state during 1941-1945) i.e. it’s fascist army Ustaše killed some 80.000 people, mostly Serbs, communists, and Gypsies. And then I will mention another topic, and this is the Bleiburg.  This is a place in Austria, where the defeated army (Ustaše, but also a lot of civilians) withdrew, going to the West, under the call protection of the allies, and they were killed by Tito’s army. So it’s butchery on both sides.

But these topics were not really discussed, because of - I believe some of you might recognize that -what we had in communist countries was not history, but ideology. It means history, interpreted in the way, the Communist Party wanted it. So that’s not really history. It’s on the one hand. And on the other, we had private memory of the people. And the gap between this ideologized history that we learned at school, and that was official - and the history, we kept in our hearts, and spoke about   at the table on Sunday lunch, and so on. These were two very dramatically different things, and there was a huge gap that was not bridged even until today.  And I mention this because it has huge influence on the causes and reasons of these recent wars.

The other element in those wars (but first of all, I mean in Croatia) was that, I think, my generation, born after the War, was the last generation of believers in socialism. We lived well, we could travel, we had money, we exchanged it on the black market, went to Trieste to buy shoes. And one of my stories is about how we change freedom for a pair of Italian shoes, which really rings the bell. We could speak English, we could watch foreign movies, we could read foreign books (there was almost no censorship in that), so we were really pleased with the situation. What does it mean? It means the less pressure of the totalitarian government - the less resistance from people. It means that in Poland they had “Solidarity”, right? In Czechoslovakia they had Vaclav Havel and “Charter 77”, and so on. In Hungary at the beginning, at that time, they also had some kind of resistance. In Yugoslavia there was no resistance, there was no democratic political alternative. And why is it important?

When the war already started (but I will go to the beginning again), it means that there was only one force organized. In all of these republics were only nationalists, who were well organized. And there were well-organized from before. And then, at the certain point, we had great impacts of the nationalists, of the  radical nationalists from abroad, who came to, for example, Croatia and got instant citizenship, and  instantly were given very high positions in the army and in the government. So without democratic alternative, without the truth about  the II World War , it was very easy to start the war. You had elements there. But…you can’t start the war just like that. I mean, you can… For example, if you ask me today to start the war, I can easily do it. I know exactly, how to go about that time, I’m a journalist, I worked in the media, I know, how to make a good propaganda, and I can tell you step by step how to make the war. So if someone wants to hire me, please, you can do that. I know, it sounds really bad, but this is also one of the roles of the intellectuals, and this is what I want to talk about.  

So, in this situation you have then to imagine, how intellectuals are. Who are intellectuals at that time? They are writers, poets, academics, professors, that what in our communist lingo was called “intelligentsia”. You know that it is an expression from Soviet Union. And what is interesting about intelligentsia or intellectuals for me is the following: this Communist regime produces a certain type of intelligentsia. What type of intelligentsia? These people, who are highly educated, they have knowledge, they are doctors, academics, and so on, they are at the same time totally dependent upon the state. In socialist countries they can not survive working outside of state institutions, because there was no free market, there was nobody, who could earn living independently. They had to make their living somehow. So they worked in institutions, they worked in the newspapers,   in schools, in academia - all controlled by the Communist party. That’s very clear.

So when there is a situation with the Communism falling apart, what happens in Yugoslavia is the following: since 1985 there is a huge struggle between these “intelligentsia” people in the media. Someone called it a “media war”. What does that mean? It means that there was a lot of writing of a nationalist type before anything happened. This nationalist writing was also in the function of nationalism in the republic. Especially when Milošević came into power in the second half of 1980s. After 1985 it became more and more pronounced. I mean Serbian nationalism. But it was not directed against Macedonia, against Croatia for that matter. No, it was directed against Kosovo. Kosovo was the beginning of the war. It’s Kosovo. And the beginning of the nationalism of the really strong Serbian nationalism is Kosovo, which at that time was autonomous… not republic, but “pokrajina” i.e. region.

It is interesting because nationalism, so to say, gave wings to Milošević. Milošević was an opportunist, whose only aim was to stay in power. He in his head (and I studied quite a lot this person, and I also wrote about him in the book about the  Court in the Hague). He was an opportunist, who he did not have a war in his mind when it all started. He wanted to stay in power, and he understood that by forcing nationalism, riding on the wing of nationalism, he perhaps could do it. And he did it. But there were also other nationalisms to count on all around. So that was not that he is the nationalist, and a big boss, and then what?.. There is also Croatian nationalism, Slovenian nationalism, don’t forget that. Then slowly through this writing about nationalism and against each other, especially Serbs against the Croats, the atmosphere was created. And by whom this atmosphere was created? By journalists, but under control of the regional nationalist leadership.

So somehow we come to that topic that I want to start, by showing you two very short clips. We’ll have to switch off the light. The first one is concerning Sarajevo, and we are going to see …

... Well, I don’t think it needs too much explanation, right? Another clip I want to show you, is another intellectual. This time this is the Croatian intellectual. His name is Slobodan Praljak. And this gentleman is also born in 1945, like Karadžić, he is the engineer of the electronics. He is a philosopher, and he is also a movie and a theater director. He finished three universities, so highly educated person, who then, in 1993, orders destruction of over 400 years old bridge in Mostar. Mostar is in Bosnia, and is divided between East and West (in the East it’s Muslim quarters, and in the West are Croatian quarters). This is one of the bridges, the oldest and the most beautiful, that is then destroyed. He also ended in the ICTY in the Hague. Karadžić’s process is still going on, and Praljak got 20 years sentence, but he appealed, and now we don’t know, what will happen. In the meantime, in Croatia he is treated as a hero, as is Karadžić in Serbia. But this we can discuss later… This little clip shows of the collapse of the bridge in Mostar.

… But when you talk about these issues, it’s interesting that people say: “My God, how is it possible that a poet, that a person like that could do such a terrible, such a horrifying thing?” To me the answer is rather self-evident: poets they are not very much different from a carpenter, or a taxi-driver, or a porter, or somebody else, a baker let’s say, somebody ordinary. But how could they do it? This is not the right question. The right question in my opinion is “why wouldn’t they do it?” What do we presuppose is that writers and intellectuals in general are so special that they would not commit a crime, shoot or lust for power, order execution, come to corruption. It looks as if they would be by their education vaccinated against it. But, in spite of enough proofs that they are not, there is still a wide spread belief that intellectuals, and especially writers, are beings of a higher moral order.  After all, they possess knowledge. And this idea of the knowledge that is freeing you, that makes you free, comes from our Enlightenment tradition. But they are always contradicted by the life.

So then my colleagues (writers, journalists, professors) in my own country decide to take automatically the side of the power. The power was nationalist at that time, before that the side of the power was communist. So they just switched like this. This I find very interesting.

Of course, as I told you, in my opinion, the source of such a behavior is their position during the communist time, the fact that they could not be free.

So I told you about Karadžić, I told you about Praljak, but there is also another thing: we already arrived to beginning of wars. I think, what we should pay attention to, and this is basically my reason to choose this subject, is preparations for the war, the role of intellectuals in the psychological preparation. I don’t think that anybody could kill just like that. Intellectuals come handy, because they are literate, they have knowledge, but this knowledge can be, so to say,  commanded from above. It could be manipulated into using words almost as bullets. And what they are doing is preparing (by words, by writing, by speaking, by stimulating ideas) psychologically the situation for the war. Maybe some of you have read diaries of Victor Klemperer, and he is registering, in many details (he also wrote the book about language, change of the language during fascism), but he also records many details of how the life have changed at the beginning of the fascism, and how the intellectuals (let’s call them this way, general name) are creating the enemy. And this is all about stirring up emotions of hatred by creating the enemy. In other words, in order to have a war, in order to kill somebody- you have to dehumanize the other side. You can not do it just like that. The tabu not to kill is very-very strong. So you have to convince your countrymen, first of all, to homogenize them… Sorry, first of all, to create the enemy and then homogenize people nationally. This is the task of intellectuals, and most of them were doing it willingly. If you were not willing to do such a thing, you were not in a very good position. As I said, war were preceded by the media-war, or the «war of words». Journalists from Serbia and Croatia competed with historians and writers, describing the other nation as an enemy.

Also, nationalism was politically very instrumental in a situation (let’s not forget) of inflation that had skyrocketed  to 2500%. Can you imagine inflation of 2500%? They did not have prices in supermarkets, they had to change it every five minutes, so it was impossible to have prices. But the important thing about this inflation was that newspapers were printing the stories from II World War: they started to count the victims, all the skeletons hidden under the carpets, somehow crept out. Jasenovac and Bleiburg became issues, because they were covered before, mass graves were dug out, the bones were literally counted, and also some people took bones of their predecessors (mothers, fathers) home – from Croatia to Serbia, or from Serbia to Croatia. Old myths of Serbs as celestial people, and another myth of Croats, who wanted to have state for thousand years, and never succeeded, became more and more used. In other words, when you have history of nationalism, it is very easy to misuse it. But then it became rather dangerous at that point, because these nationalism forces became more and more organized. As I said, the key role was that we didn’t have history, but ideology. In that situation you know what you are supposed to write, and you know how to use this knowledge in order to incite hatred.

I didn’t mention that the most prominent Serbian novelist Dobrica Ćosić was the President of Serbia at the moment when Serbrenica happened. So it is a sad counterpoint to Vaclav Havel.

I’m not going to mention here the names, but I just wanted to say very briefly that this is not… Ok, you could say, they were brought, they were controlled, but there were also some other people, who show that it was not necessary your choice. You could choose, you can choose in every situation (even Primo Levi said that you could choose in the worst of situations). There is a price to pay, but there’s also always a choice.

I want to borrow one expression from Adam Michnik, who is attending this conference, who at that time of wars in former Yugoslavia said that nationalism in former Yugoslavia, contrary to the popular opinion in the West, was not so much repressed, as it was forgotten, or, better to say, “it was dormant like a virus”. I’d like to borrow that analogy of nationalism as a virus, which means that you can wake it up at the moment when the conditions are opportune. Our bodies are full of viruses, but you don’t know exactly when you are going to have the flu. You are going to have the flu, when other conditions are, so to say, good for the flu to develop. And I think, this is the best metaphor of the nationalism I’ve ever heard.

Once in 1991, as a blood was shed (and when a blood is shed, it is a war)… And my definition of war is : the war begins when you no longer know the names of the victims. You remember the names of the first victims, you have them on covers, you have their pictures. This is not the war yet. When you have so many victims that you can not remember them any longer, then this is the war.

But what about intellectuals, we saw now, could be «bad guys»? Can they be «good guys»? Judging by the behavior of the intellectuals of the former Yugoslavia, and now in independent republics of Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, it seems to me, they didn’t learn very much, because they “cling” to the power exactly as they did before. Although now they have much bigger choice, because this is now democracy. So what is democracy in respect to intellectuals? Democracy does not produce dissidents, democracy only produces people of different opinion. If you are expressing different opinion in democracy, you are not going to be punished – or theoretically so. But many didn’t notice that switch. Why? It is very interesting. Because what happened in Yugoslavia, what happened throughout the Eastern block, the “switch”, the change of political system (even in Russia) from communism into democracy , not necessarily means that by building democratic institutions, you have democracy. What remained to be done is to change people, and their mentality, and that is happening, but did not really happen yet. That is, you have  formally a democracy, you have everything what democracy formally requires. But the system, the people are operating according to the old principles, according to the old methods(which is, of course, the reason for the corruption), along the party lines, along the family lines, and along dealing and wheeling with your comrades. This remained exactly the same, there is no difference before and now. And while this mentality prevails, it will be very-very difficult, and it is still very-very difficult to develop democracy.

But what about the “good guys”? We didn’t come to the “good guys” yet, because I would like to give you an example of Croatian association. It was called “Association of Croatian writers”. Collapse of communism didn’t produce much change there, and instead of “Croatian Association of Writers” it is now named “Association of Croatian Writers”. You would think that this is not indicative, but it is very indicative. Of course, then we formed another independent association. But I mean to switch from “Croatian Association of Writers” to “Association of Croatian Writers” means Serbs to be excluded, and everybody else to be excluded. And it works. And when several writers protested then, they resigned in membership, and the rest of the members enthusiastically applauded their resignation. So this is how it was, and how it is still very much is.

Even today intellectuals are very eager to demonstrate their new political correctness, and the new political correctness is still the loyalty to the ruling parties, loyalty to the nation and to the Croatian state. So authoritarian regime had collapsed, but still there is fear, and there is still dependence from the ruling party.

In fact, nationalism gives you very little space to be critical. It is better now than before, but... I can’t say, situation is the same as twenty years ago, but considering that twenty years have passed - I can’t say in my free conscience that we have a complete freedom. One of the reasons is that the media and the government are very closely tied together (not through the party connections, but through the connections of the capital, and the government). So it is different kind of connection, but it is still ruling the freedom of expression at least in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia (this are the countries, I know a little bit more about). We, journalists, for example, are working as transmitters of party power. And this is interesting, because it goes up and down. For example, when we were entering the EU almost a year ago (Croatia is the last member of the EU), before that there was much European propaganda (there was a small anti-European propaganda, of course), but I mean that, for example, HDZ (Hrvatska demokratska zajednica), a conservative party of Tuđman, a right-wing party, was insisting on the membership in EU, so they were advocating the EU. But very soon, as Croatia entered the EU, they started this anti-Union propaganda, seeing that nothing goes as it should have gone, in their heads, in their imagination. And it really didn’t, because Croatia entered in a very bad moment, when economy was very-very bad.

When we are thinking of the positive role of the intellectuals, we have also to remember such important names as Adam Michnik (who is here, and if you haven’t seen, or haven’t heard him, you should). As Tim Snyder said, introducing him to your Prime-minister, “this is the biggest Pole living”, and I completely agree to that. So the “big Pole” Adam Michnik, Jacek Kuroń,  Bronisław Geremek, who unfortunately died, Vaclav Havel, Jiří Dienstbier, Miklós Haraszti, János Kis, György Konrád. All these are the names, you have heard of, but these are what we could qualify as “the other side” of intellectual activity. The ideas of civil society, of introducing moral into politics (remember what Havel was talking about of “living in truth”, this is his expression of political pluralism) haven’t been possible without efforts of people like them.

But what happened to them after the revolution? Are they still important? (We know, what happened to Havel). They played a big role in preparing the revolution, as those others played a big role in preparing the wars.  And it seems to me that for a period of time they have lost their influence. If so, are we to say, it’s normal? The more normal the society, the less need for public moralist, redeemers of people or intellectual heroes. It is a sign of normality.

On the other hand, in former Yugoslavia, for example, in the society that is far from normalization (because of the nationalism, and because of lack of reconciliation, which is another topic), and where we still have a tough struggle between authoritarian and liberal forces, perhaps critical intellectuals were written off too early, in belief that democracy would take care of itself. Are they still needed?

Long ago one intellectual turned out Havel’s invitation to take up governmental position, with explanation that someone has to remain independent. Havel pointed out that if all intellectuals would follow his example, there is a danger that nobody would be able to remain independent, because there would be nobody in power, who would make possible, and guarantee his independence. Perhaps intellectuals in the 19th century role of preachers, politicians, teachers, and national leaders, all in one, are still necessary in our part of the world? Here is ,then, to you to answer this question: are intellectuals necessary in this society, what role do they play in this society, are they “bad guys”, are they “good guys”, and what role do they play now in respect to government? In my view, one has to be always critical, always hold a mirror against any kind of a government.

Thank you very much for your attention. I hope I haven’t been terribly boring. And I’m ready to answer your questions. Thank you.



… And nobody expected, what happened since then in Ukraine. But in the meantime Ukraine is trying very hard to embark to this train. And, well, we don’t know, what’s going to happen, but I think, what had happened at the end of last year, and at the beginning of this year is quite magnificent. At the lost of lives, unfortunately, but yes, a lot has changed. And this is one of the reasons, I think, we are here to support this struggle for pro-European government and democracy in this country. And that’s fascinating. And I think that there are a lot of people, who are not only supporting, but admiring you, Ukrainian people, to be able to do all of that, and watching very carefully what is going to happen, and also being very-very much afraid of what might happen here.


… Yes, thank you for the compliment, and I don’t know how topical it is, and I cannot really judge very well, what the solution of «Daytonization» (40:07) would bring. I only can make parallel to what happened in Bosnia. And in  Bosnia happened a catastrophe. In my opinion, in Bosnia it was not a good solution. And you might have heard that the last autumn Bosnians were protesting on the streets against the government. It’s a stagnation in Bosnia, there is nothing happening, and I tell you why. The reason is a simple one. They are fed by the international community. You will be shocked, if I tell you that in a country of four million people, divided in cantons (actually, the structure is very complex), there are 163 ministers. These ministers have drivers, they have secretaries, offices, cars, and they can give jobs to their relatives. Do you think, these people are going to leave their jobs without fighting? Never. So, seriously speaking, international protectorat  didn’t show a good result in Bosnia.

But if we are making parallels between what happened in Balkans, and what is happening here, we have to think about another thing, and this thing is the size of Ukraine. I, for example, do not trust European Union, because it did nothing in Bosnia, it didn’t resolve anything. Not even the war wouldn’t have finished without Americans. American bombing finished the war, they forced the peace agreement - Hollbrooke twisting the arm of Milošević. These are the people, who understand only the language of power, of violence.  The EU was not capable of resolving the problem of a tiny little country, tiny especially compared to Ukraine. Now the curse and the blessing of Ukraine is that it’s so big, and you can’t dismiss it like that. You can’t say, “ok, this is some far country, who cares about that? We are going to pour some money there, and that’s it, keep these ministers going on, it doesn’t matter”. But for Ukraine it can’t be. Ukraine is too big and too important. They will have to come hopefully with some measures, some solutions that are not a joke, that are not to be laughed at.

Personally, from the experience I have, «Daytonization» would not be such a good idea, because in this way it would have been much easier for Putin to swallow one by one part.  


… Well, actually, now situation… It was different. There were mainly female intellectuals, who were opposing nationalism and the war. And you can draw whatever conclusions you want from that, but this is how it was. For some reason or the other, they were not so fanatical about that. So they paid the price, you know. We have the case of five intellectuals that were practically so much smeared in the newspapers that they could not work, some of them had to go to other country. I’m one of them, I have to say. So consequences of that behavior are difficult especially during the war, because you are risking quite a lot. But I would not go being the feminist myself, I do not want to make further conclusion along this line. For example, it is more natural for the women to be against the war (I think, it is, but I mean that it requires a separate complicated discussion about women and men in general).

There is no such a thing as common foreign politics in EU. And that’s the disaster. And that we have felt very much in the wars in the Balkans. There is no the European Union foreign policy, there is no European Union culture policy, there is no the EU economic policy. There is only this interest against that interest. And as far as a journalism goes, it is pretty much works along these lines, and there are very few dissenting opinions. But I think that, on the other hand, there are quite a lot of at least sympathy (if not understanding) for what is happening here.

To understand is one thing… First of all, it is a very big shock, what happened with Crimea. It is enormous shock. It takes time to process, to swallow this, to understand that for the first time from the II World War… somebody said yesterday (I forgot who it was)… there was aggression, one country went into another country, and took part of it. I mean, this is shocking, and it takes time to understand it.

On the other hand, I think of a kind of “justification” of Putin and Putin’s politics… In my opinion, there are two reasons for that. One is fear. And the other is fear of helplessness that you don’t know who could do something there. For sure, Americans are not going to bomb there. NATO is not going to act. The III World War will not happen, in my opinion. And who is then going to stop Putin? I’m afraid, apart from the sympathies that intellectuals in the West are expressing, you are very much alone in this struggle. I do not know, how much it can help you, and this is why we are here, on this conference. So you are actually talking to “wrong guys”, because we are trying to be “good guys”. It comes from not really knowing, being afraid and knowing that there is not really any solution in terms of actual power acting there. So it’s a sad fact that Ukraine is pretty much alone (of course, it’s only my personal view). But also the other side of that is that Ukraine, again, is a big country, which means a big potential, which means a big possibility to defend yourself, and to build something out of this situation. Of course, it’s not a satisfactory answer, but I am not a politician.


… Your experiences are a part of yourself, of your view, of your personality. You can’t get rid, even if you want, of your experience. And, of course, very often there is some misunderstanding. I also feel it, when I’m talking to my colleagues, who come from the West, and who are very “theoretical”, as you say, and who often do not know very much about our conditions of living, that we are missing each other, missing in the meaning is different. And I do think, I wouldn’t claim that it’s ontological difference, but it is experience that defines us. And therefore, just because of this experience, whatever they say, we know (or, at least, I know) that changes can not grow as fast as we need them to happen. It is a very slow process. And I think, struggling with mentality is one of the biggest struggles we have. And I think that in this part of the world we still need people who are going, in moral terms actually, to tell us what to do.

Why? Because we can not trust our politicians. In Eastern Europe, in the period of transition, we have learned this very tough lecture. And this is the lesson: we can not trust them, they are corrupt, they do not represent public values and public needs. So there must be somewhere someone who deserves our trust, and who can represent public issues, because they are not. So what do you do, you as a people, as a country? You are left alone, you don’t trust the politicians, they are corrupt, media are corrupt. So, like in bed old times, you have to have some voice, you can trust.

The problem however is another: where do they express themselves? How can you express yourself in the world, which is totally ruled by the media that are privatized, and that are also politically governed? For example, if I have some opinion I want to express, I would hardly find the media, the platform in Croatia, where I could say something, which is critical, or important. Because there are no such platforms any longer. So we are caught into this not only with “what” and “how”, but “where”. And this is one of the biggest problems, because you do not have to address, and to defend public interest.

Is this why you are publishing in “The Guardian”?

Well, from time to time yes. But it’s sad, because when you speak, publishing in “The Guardian”, or “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, I have noticed one very funny phenomenon. And that is that Croatian people, who work in the government, or who work in the media, they register every time I write something in English. But if I write something in German, in Swedish, Danish, or in some other country, they don’t register it because they don’t know the language.


… I think, it’s a very good comment, but, as I said, I leave all the comparison about Ukraine actually to you. The question about commission for reconciliation in former Yugoslavia is a very interesting question, because I have been dealing with it, and wrote something about that. And in my opinion, no, it’s not going to work. And there have been such an initiative, but it didn’t work.

We have different culture. In that culture, if you come out, and say, “I have killed your child”, the mother might even come to you, kiss you, and say: “My son, I forgive you!” -  but nevertheless,  an uncle would kill the perpetrator who confessed tomorrow. You should not forget that in the Balkans there is a very strong tradition, especially, in some parts, of a blood feud. So to shed blood in revenge is more common than to forgive. I’m talking about centuries back, but this is actually one of the reasons, why it doesn’t work.

It was formed such a commission in Sarajevo, and its head was Jacob Finci (I don’t know if he’s still there), he’s a Jew. And it absolutely didn’t and couldn’t work. In my opinion, and it’s my deep experience and conviction, it’s because a war comes from the top, not from the bottom. It has to be incited, and  it comes from the top.

Therefore, the peace should take exactly the same way. It should come from the top. And what does it mean? It means that it needs series of attempts from state institutions (it was done that the President of one country comes to the President of the other, and says “sorry”, and then the other President says “sorry”, and so they go ceremonially). On the levels of institutions too. So, political level, institutional level, but most of all, on the level of history, because one of the causes, why this war started was history, the fact that we did not have history, but ideology. Historians have an enormous, big, important task to finally produce some kind of truth. Why? Because I think, we have to have reconciliation about this truth as well.

Couple of years ago in Serbia they denied Srebrenica. Students from the law faculty put out the declaration that Srebrenica never happened (and it’s a place, where in 1995 eight thousand Muslim men and boys were killed, exterminated; so there’s a huge mass grave). Couple of years later Serbian Parliament put the declaration recognizing mass killings in Srebrenica. So the task of historians, and people who work in education is to produce the textbooks that hold some kind of  this “common truth”, because without common truth there is no justice. And without it the whole process of reconciliation falls into nothing.