July 17, 1995, Vreme News Digest Agency No 198

VREME Dossier

Academics and the War

Compiled by M. Milosevic

In a special edition of the magazine "Republika", Dr. Olivera Milosavljevic, an historian and reader at the Philosophical Faculty in Belgrade, published her work "Public Political Activity of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences 1986 - 1992". Here are some extracts from the text.

("The brain of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences (SANU) serves the Serbian people. It must always suffer and share the fate and suffering of its people"- A. Isakovic, "Politika", May 26, 1990.)

In 1984, one of the academics, Dobrica Cosic, in his speech about the "burdens of the past and the challenges of the future" requested that the academy decide whether it ought to engage in the resolution of "problems of wider social and national importance" denying that the "concern of intellectuals for the well-being of all" is an aspiration for partnership, or contest for power.

A year later, the same proposal, this time formulated as a need to "point out the current social, political, economic, scientific and cultural problems" in the form of a memorandum, was accepted unanimously.

What were the demands of the Memorandum?

The Memorandum consists of two parts, with most of the positions and demands of the second half canceling out those of the first.

Part One: (1) democratic integrative federalism (the principle of autonomy of constituent parts must be reconciled with the principle of the integration of constituent parts into a unified entity); (2) complete review of the 1974 constitution; (3) democratization and radical changes in the personnel structure, equality and self-determination of all Yugoslav people, including Serbian, accomplishment of human, citizen, and socio-economic rights, rationalization of the political system.

Part Two (suggestions to some future Serbian political leadership): (1) *** of a political crisis; (2) putting an end to the practice of sacking those politicians who questioned the equality of Serbia, and an end to discrimination against economists, sociologists, philosophers and writers from Serbia who identified malignant social phenomena; (3) "the defeat of aggression" in Kosovo, "political clashes with true revolutionary fighting" (which according to the Memorandum means "open clashes, with the right of free expression, even the expression of the opposite view"); (4) relieving the Serbian people of the historical blame, official denial of the claim that its economic position was in any way privileged, and the recognition of its role in the liberation of the country and its contribution to the creation of Yugoslavia; (5) establishment of full national and cultural integrity of the Serbs irrespective of which republic or autonomous region they live in; (6) Serbian people must arrive at a modern social and national program which will inspire the current and future generations; (7) Serbia must openly declare that the current state structure was imposed; (8) Serbia must support the AVNOJ principles, but in case of other alternatives it must take into account its own economic and national interests "in order not to be surprised by events"; (9) fundamental changes in the sphere of democratic socialism; (10) the first condition for transformation is a "democratic mobilization of all the intellectual and moral powers of the people (...) directed towards the creation of a program and the construction of the future".

Months which followed the publication of the Memorandum were marked by a strong pressure by the Serbian government on the Academy, requesting that it renounces the content of the document, and the refusal by the Academy to do so explicitly.

At the beginning of 1988, a discussion was held in SANU about constitutional changes, which ended with the publication of a document under the title "Opinion of the SANU on the Changes in the Constitution of the SR Serbia". The opinion of the SANU turned out to be a terminologically weaker, shorter and more concrete version of some of the opinions expressed in the Memorandum, with fewer generalizations but much more determination and confidence in its own ability and position.

During 1989, the presidency of the SANU used every opportunity to offer verbal support to the Serbian leadership. That year SANU issued two public statements. One was about the meeting in the Cankarjev Dom in Ljubljana and the other was an explanation about the relationship between individual opinions of the Academics and that of the institution as a whole.

The events in March 1991 in Belgrade marked only the beginning of the public expression of political disunity within the SANU. Even this first expression of differences can be examined from two perspectives: from the aspect of the institution itself and from the aspect of remarks made by individual members.

As far as individual members are concerned, Academic Markovic was the one most loyal to the authorities, and he expressed this loyalty in the speeches he gave in the Banjica sports center on March 10, to the assembly at Usce on March 11, and the remarks he made on Serbian Television on March 13. Academic Cosic also spoke on television denying that he attended the gathering of students at Terazije. His evaluation of what happened was similar to the position of the presidency of the Academy; he claimed that the events were a "great misfortune", and described his own position as "devotion to democracy and the Serbian people". On the other hand, a group of Academics did turn up at Terazije offering their support to the students (according to "Politika" following academics were there - Andrej Mitrovic, Matija Beckovic, Mica Popovic, Nikola Milosevic, Predrag Palavestra, Miroslav Pantic).

Only a few days later, SANU issued another public announcement as a reply to "a large number of letters from the public" demanding that it voices its opinion. Asserting its interest for the future of the Serbian people, the Academy explained that, as an institution, it can not voice its opinion on political matters, but that its main role is to concentrate "intellectual forces" on the resolution of particular problems of the day, and to function "through purely academic means".

In contrast with the earlier regular public announcements - following the meeting in Cankarjev Dom, writings in the Zagreb daily "Vjesnik" in 1989, and the events in Belgrade in March 1991- the Academy failed to issue any official statement about the events in May 1991 in Croatia, the war in Slovenia in June and July 1991, battles around Vukovar, Dubrovnik, etc.

until October 15, 1991 when it issued a statement about the endangered cultural heritage, and then, on the next day a letter to the world public about the position of the Serbian people in Croatia. The first announcement was the Academy's reaction to a letter of condemnation from its Croatian counterpart (HAZU) in which the SANU was criticized for not voicing a protest against the destruction of cultural heritage in Croatia. This is evident from the statement's concluding remark: "The reproach about the indifferent attitude of the SANU towards cultural heritage is not based on facts".

The war in Croatia was defined as a "bitter clash between the Serbian people and the Croatian authorities" which is "turning into an ethnic and religious war". Again the Academy rises in defence of the Serbian authorities by concluding that "Republic of Serbia, its policies, and its state and public institutions are often mistakenly, sometimes even maliciously, cited as the main cause of the Yugoslav drama and are blamed for it". The statement also claimed that "Serbia never declared war on Croatia", but that it is the "Serbian people and Croatian authorities who are at war".

The political split within the Academy which began with the events in March 1991, widened throughout the year. In October 1991, a letter about the safety of Dubrovnik signed by a group of historians was published and sent to both the Yugoslav Army and the Croatian military. Among the signatories were two academics (Sima Cirkovic and Andrej Mitrovic) ("Politika", October 5, 1991). In November 1991, an appeal by 18 members of the Academy was published pleading for a peaceful solution to the Yugoslav crisis, which differed from all previous statements from the Academy in the sense that the request for peace was not relativised.

At the regular session of the Academy held on November 23, the General Secretary Medakovic announced that the appeal represented the opinion of individual members rather than the institution, and thus dissociated the Academy from this anti-war appeal.

Greater activity of the Academy was shown during the Congress of Serbian Intellectuals held in Sarajevo between March 28-29, 1992. under the title "Yugoslav Crisis and the Serbian Question". According to "Politika", 500 of the "most prominent Serbian intellectuals took part". Academic Macura greeted the congress on behalf of the SANU, Academic Ivic on behalf of the Serbian Assembly, while Academic Cosic sent a letter suggesting that Serbs, Muslims and Croats should separate - "in order to remove the reasons for hating and killing each other".

After the period marked by the silence of the Academy as an institution and the loudest possible cries of its members, which lasted several months, at the beginning of June 1992 the public learned about the political split within it. At the Academy's Assembly held on June 3 a statement was read out, signed by 37 academics, requesting Milosevic's resignation, which started off a discussion on the attitude of the Academy towards the authorities.

Most of the signatories were Academics who were not politically active in the preceding years, though there were some who, only few months earlier, offered full support to Milosevic and his policies. At the beginning of June, the first suggestions that Academic Cosic ought to be President of Yugoslavia emerged in the press. They came from the Association of Serbs from B-H, Association of Serbs from Croatia, SPS Valjevo, etc. After an incredibly brief procedure, on June 16, Cosic was elected and inaugurated President of Yugoslavia.

Academic Cosic's presidency, no mater how symbolic it really was, marked the end of an era in the political life of the Academy. A few months earlier second Yugoslavia broke up, a country which according to the Memorandum of SANU brought so much trouble to the Serbian people, and at the same time a third "domestic" war broke out, which was supposed to define the borders of the newly formed national states. Internal disunity prevented further political activity of the institution, while the open future which still needed defining and the situation without either a country or borders which had to be drawn, proved to be less inspiring than the existence of the common state.

The influence of the highest scientific institution on the shaping of public opinion, that is on the spreading of the view that the Yugoslav crisis can only be solved with radical means, by causing a political crisis, defining a Serbian national program, and "if necessary" by creating alternatives to Yugoslavia, can be said to be immeasurable. Similar opinions, even more radical ones, coming from other organizations or individuals, could be heard in public but none of them had behind them the authority of an institution through which, during its 100 years of existence, passed the greatest names of Serbian science and culture. By creating "axioms" which they then held to be real, the members of the Academy authoritatively offered suggestions and solutions, defined the aims, etc. However they never considered themselves responsible, for the potentially wrong "interpretation" and enforcement out of what they suggested.