interview by Snezana RISTIC and Radonja LEPOSAVIC
BUDEN: Ten years ago I went to Austria. I used to live in Zagreb.
I am not anymore a Croatian intellectual, but I couldn't say that I'm an Austrian intellectual either. I have experienced a definitive exclusion, or separation, cutting of the umbilical cord that connected me with the Croatian identity. There is no need to add any Zagreb or Croatia. Those specifics perhaps make sense because of the same language we speak, Croat and Serb languages are one and the same language, from the linguistic point of view, but, as we know, culturally and politically they are two languages, just as Croatia and Serbia are two states, and because of the reflected experience of dissolution, war, the tragic break up of the at one time common multinational community.
My problem, my case... Buden's affair is that I did not make the transition that was demanded in this region. After the creation of the Croat independent state I did not join the Croat political society, I did not become a political Croat. In the given former Yugoslav framework, to the extent it was possible, I had a Yugoslav political identity, not a Croat identity.
I did not become a political Austrian either. The lack of definition and the situation of total uncertainty in the political sense is for me neither a Croat nor Serb, but a European problem.
My motives for this visit to Belgrade were absolutely professional and had nothing to do with external circumstances, for example the total historical change that took place. I was invited by the School for History and Theory of Art to participate in one of their seminars.
The problem is that in Belgrade I always had the feeling that I was perceived as a Croat. The work with the School is an extremely positive and pleasant experience. I am not dealing with Serbs, so that I do not have to, I am not forced to feel like a Croat. This is my first visit to Belgrade of that kind. That is definitely not a consequence of October 5, but a series of events that took place here over the last ten years. The October fifth is an unrelated event which did not create those individuals.
VREME: Serbia, Balkans, West and October 5?
I am not important enough to define the essence of October 5, but I am important enough to include skepticism, to have doubts. The problem with that date is that the whole world knows what happened on October 5. Joschka Fischer, and the rest of the West with him, summarized his attitude in one sentence: On October 5, in Belgrade, the last brick was removed from the Berlin wall. The message is that the historical process, initiated with the workers' protest in Gdansk and continued with the fall of Eastern European communist dictatorships culminating with the fall of the Berlin wall, was concluded after ten years in Belgrade. Some sort of the delayed fall of communism. Serbs and Serbia, the country that was all this time excluded from Europe, very concretely, materially and politically - with sanctions - served as a symbol of culturally backward Balkan identity that found its expression in the crimes in Bosnia, Kosovo, as an example of residual fascism. Serbia was denounced as residue of everything worst in ideological and political sense, everything that was defeated by the so-called normal democratic Europe in 1945, or 1989. All that was viewed as concentrated in the Balkans, as a part of the Balkan identity that had been present for centuries and then suddenly went berserk. That story was concluded on October 5. The West was fully prepared to finally finish that story - it needed that ending in order to get the sense that it has finally defeated all the totalitarian ideologies. From now on, as they used to say that Austria was fortunate, felix Austria, now we'll have felix Europe. There are no more serious conflicts nor obstacles to endless development in the direction of happiness, democracy, progress, affluence.
I try to think differently. I am critical with respect to that attitude. I do not think that perpetrators and victims in this region are merely rehashing an old historical lesson and that - unlike good students - they had to take remedial classes in order to pass the exam and join the next class of the historical political development of Europe, the unification of Europe.
Here people still do not know, are not capable of saying the word that thoroughly shaped their life over the last ten years - racism. In its contemporary sense racism is always cultural racism. Without that term, in my opinion, it is impossible to explain the events that took place here. That is the key term for the break up of Yugoslavia, and not only the cultural racism of Slovenians with respect to the Balkans, but also the cultural racism of Europe as such with respect to non-European elements, which was omnipresent in this region in its passive aggressiveness. Balkans, the term Balkans as a negative element, is a racist notion. That word - racism - should be finally said in the Serb circumstances. The important attitude of Serbs towards Albanians is exclusively highly vulgar, very primitive and most brutal mode of cultural racism. One needs to face that problem. For the sake of the future.
I think that it is wrong, for our consciousness of who and what we are, and why and what happened to us, to seek a virtual Pinata that we can all beat on and thereby suppress an understanding of structural reasons for the catastrophe, our personal role in that, subjective mistakes, responsibility in the sense of learning from history, in the sense of understanding the nature of events and their origin. In Brecht's poem a worker, after reading that Alexander the Macedon has conquered Asia asks whether Alexander really conquered Asia on his own. Wasn't there at least one more person with him? I put forward and recommend that question to the Serb public, not the Serb people. Did Milosevic really shoot personally at Dubrovnik? Did he shoot at Vukovar, Sarajevo, kill in Srebrenica? Did he really bring NATO bombers above Serbia? Of course he didn't! Was Milosevic the only communist in Serbia, the only nationalist in Serbia, the only Balkanoid, the only primitive person in Serbia? He was not!
The consciousness of the nature of the recent events is not only a Serb story, but also a Croat story and Western European story, but that does not release Serbs as a nation from their responsibility.
What about ignorance?
I think that people know enough. I would be happy if someone explained to me the fantastic mystery of the disappearance of six, seven thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica. Are they still wondering through the forests? Did they commit collective suicide? Is it really necessary to dig up all the corpses, line them up and count them? By the way, I do think that this is necessary, but not for the sake of finding out what happened in Srebrenica.
The facts about Croat crimes after the operation "Storm" have been known for a while, in the statistical sense. It is possible to precisely establish when, where... But that information was also available immediately after the operation "Storm". Even the euphoric, Croat, nationally aware, manipulated by the media, so-called public, was informed that Croat forces were successful in eliminating eighty-years-old granny snipers. The public accepted that explanation. And as long as those who did that are not punished the public accepts, literally, that eighty-years-old grannies can really be snipers.
If someone thinks that Croats set car tires on fire in Dubrovnik, that Sarajevo bombed itself, that seven thousand Muslims have been wondering through the forest around Srebrenica for years, that is not a problem with ignorance or lack of information. In that case something else is the problem.
Nations, this is perhaps my fundamental theory, haven't been established as political subjects in this region, which was proven over the last ten years. They haven't been established in the sense that they failed to establish their political responsibility with respect to human rights, the rule of law, fundamental democratic principles of the contemporary world. In that sense they do not exist as contemporary nations.
Here, we still lack the consciousness about the difference between the so-called liberal nationalism and its totalitarian deviations, and that is the basis of the idea of the sovereign democratic nation. Each of the individual cases - Croats, Serbs... - lacks the finalized concept of the liberal conscious nation that takes care of human rights, which takes democracy as the basic value and purpose of its political activism. That remains as some sort of political utopia, sort of like Communism in the former Yugoslavia. New national, mono-ethnic states are being created with the incessant repetition of the assertion that nation, ethnicity, is the only framework for democracy. Unfortunately, we've witnessed the total failure to fill that framework with democracy. It is asserted that nation is the foundation of democracy but I dare someone to show me democracy in the new Yugoslavia. Where did masses rise, not against Slobodan Milosevic, but against Slobodan Milosevic's crimes? Where did they rise against Franjo Tudman's crimes? When did they say - we shall not tolerate crimes committed in our name? No, as far as I know, masses, the people, never did that and overthrew those regimes.
Relations between Serbia and Croatia?
I fear the post-war love embrace of those who literally have nothing but their national identities and who precisely because of that share excellent mutual understanding, love, respect, appreciation, all for the sake of remaining stuck in their backward identities. I find post-nationalist love among nationalists disgusting. Deep understanding of ones for the others was obvious in direct contacts between Tudman and Milosevic. The Croat nationalist fascination with Kostunica's hardline Serb attitude with respect to the Hague tribunal is not a secret. A Croat nationalist's fantasy goes like this - if only we had Kostunica, but unfortunately we don't have him. In the nationalist code understanding is even easier, it allows for more intense empathy and identification than in the non-nationalist code.
I support apologies. Apologies are not only a symbolic act, they have a practical, pragmatic internal political purpose. Imagine, Kostunica receives from Mesic an apology for the expulsion of hundred thousand Serbs from Croatia. Would that not strengthen his stature in Serbia immensely? We must permit Mesic to think along the same lines in Croatia. That would in practice speed up establishment of economic relations with Serbia, increase profits, employment, strengthen his position in Europe. Everyone should apologize to everyone else, as much as possible and as soon as possible, so that we can put an end to this chapter. There is no need to view that in the deepest sense of cathartic moral decisions. That has its practical, pragmatic and political side, and that needs to be done. However, there is, in conscience, spirit, some intellectual conscience, the self-consciousness of the public, a possibility for sincere attitude towards that. That symbolic meaning should not be underestimated. I repeat, as far as politicians are concerned, that should be done as soon as possible and as often as possible, but regarding the so-called intellectuals, I think that their task is to give the true meaning to that ritual act. There are reasons for an apology, too many reasons. For many apologies, by many sides.
Apologies have started coming, in different shapes and forms. Participating in a public event in Belgrade, where poems of an Albanian poet [from Kosovo] were read in Albanian, I heard when a Serb writer Arsenijevic said that very word. That is symbolically an extremely important event. I do not intend to get into who, why and what, I think that that is an important moment of the contemporary Serb history. It hasn't been recorded by the media, but it did take place - I witnessed it. It is impossible to ignore it and I think that Arsenijevic demonstrated, purely politically, as a writer, a moment of positive thought. In the so-called Serb national and political identity that is the first act in which one can experience, although not envision, a possibility for the solution of the problem. In this specific case, the problem between Serbs and Albanians.
No matter how much ritualized, no matter how much caught in the dialectics of who will apologize first, who did more, who less, the act of apology is a risk that is taken by every person daring to offer an apology. Many will be unable to identify themselves with it, but that act brings new things. It opens possibilities that previously were not present, opens new territories. In the full symbolical sense that act transforms the Serb political and cultural element in the subject of events, and perhaps the biggest trauma of Serbs is that everything that happened to them in the last ten years happened in their consciousness to them as an object, the passive observer of events - the break up of Yugoslavia, everything. Absolutely everything that happened happened to Serbs, including Sarajevo. Even Serb crimes happened to Serbs. An apology is a step forward towards the role of a subject. Unless someone accepts responsibility, problems cannot be resolved. Someone must take a step forward somewhere, someone must become a subject of events. An apology, with the concurrent risk of making a mistake and everything that goes with that, is in symbolic sense a step into freedom and an act of opening a future. Regardless of whether we can understand what that means.