BOGDAN BOGDANOVIC is Yugoslavia's best known contemporary architect. A Serb born in Belgrade in 1922, he fought with the partisans during World War II. A former professor of architecture at the University of Belgrade, he was also the mayor of Belgrade for a brief period in the early 1980s. A member of the central committee of the Communist League of Serbia, Bogdanovic was expelled from the party when Slobodan Milosevic came to power.
The following interview with Bogdanovic was conducted by NEDJELJNA DALMACIJA.
For some time now you have had more of a public profile in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia than in Serbia.
I don't speak in Belgrade because I am not allowed to. I am under the strictest censorship. My name can not be mentioned in the press. The silence about me was broken a few months ago though by the publication Vreme with a small quotation by me. They also recently published my open letter to Dobrica Cosic [the author of works celebrating Serbian history].
I think this is because Milosevic has much better advisers now than he did a year ago, and also because after the March 9 events [mass demonstrations against the regime], he realised that he had to allow at least a semblance of democracy. He now permits all kinds of public criticism of himself. You can laugh about him, tell jokes about him, but don't ask him where Kosovo is!
For him Kosovo doesn't exist or is somewhere on the moon. These questions are taboo. Though some democracy exists, there are a number of people who are muzzled. I had the honour of being one of them.
What is it about Kosovo that Milosevic wishes to hide?
Milosevic came to power by saying he would solve the Kosovo crisis. Not only has he done nothing about it, he has made matters worse by heightening the tension there to a fever pitch.
I assume that the media ban on my name is partly because of Kosovo, because on several occasions I publicly stated that we must accept the fact that Kosovo is not ours. If we had only found the courage to say this 10 years ago, we could have left Kosovo as friends and acquired new friends there in some political constellation acceptable to Europe. But instead, Milosevic made enemies there, sowing everlasting seeds of evil between Serbs and Albanians. He has done the same for Serbs and Macedonians, and is now doing the same with the Hungarians — not to mention, of course, the Croats.
You have described this as "Serbia's road to self-humiliation and self-destruction".
It is no secret that Milosevic is psychologically a self-destructive, suicidal type, but the trouble is that he is transferring his suicidal madness onto the nation as a whole. If he has to go, then the whole Serbian nation must disappear as well.
Is there a force in Serbia that can stop this?
The occult power of dictators does not lie in the fact that they are clever — they're frequently limited, and I think Milosevic is a very limited man — rather, their power lies in the fact that they can bring into the circle of their mad ideas a great number of people and even whole nations.
In the streets, cafes, and homes of Belgrade you can hear constant war cries and appeals to hatred and killing. All of this is the result of a grave psychological malaise.
The intelligent young people feel a great sense of betrayal; even those who first believed all this. Unfortunately, they are small in number. They are mainly young intellectuals who might have had a career, but now cannot. They have this potential within them — this power to do something — but are horribly suppressed and frustrated. I no longer count on the Serbian opposition. Such as it is, it provides Milosevic with a cloak of legitimacy. Its leaders frequently say in a more moderate and benign way the same thing that Milosevic says sharply and brutally.
Why do you say that Serbia has lost the war?
When I say "this war", I am not thinking only of the current one, but of all our modern wars and our entire modern history. Today we should be at least where Hungary is, or where the Czechs are. A feeling of failure lies at the very heart of Serb nationalism, and with it comes all the various justifications of this failure: all the various Cominterns, Vaticans, Free Masonries and their unbelievable plots. There is indeed a sense of having missed out.
But when I speak of the lost war I am also speaking of the events that take place today. Whether we like it or not , when we watch TV and see how far the "defenders of Serb" towns have advanced, we see that these "defenders of Serb villages" are attacking towns! The "defenders" are surrounding Vukovar: the "defenders of Serb villages" are attacking Osijek. The area of destruction is widening. The irresponsible, indeed disgusting, press presents this as some kind of a victory. This is a terrible misconception.
Firstly, from a political-military point of view, they cannot possibly win since nobody sensible would allow anything to be changed by force at the end of the 20th century. Sooner or later, those who are there will be forced to shamefully withdraw unless they are thrown back by the Croat defence effort which, if the war spreads, will be aided from the outside. Secondly, this war has been lost at another, even more terrible level — it is destroying our Serb belief that our wars were just wars, and that we behave honourably. The war now being waged is not an honourable war.
How would you characterise the army's behaviour?
Negatively, horribly so. Those fanatics [the Serb irregulars] may be waging war for some mad reasons — in the name of a sick, morbid and fanatical nationalism. But the army is making war not out of any fanatical nationalism, nor, as it is frequently accused of, out of ideological fanaticism. The army is simply fighting to maintain its privileges!
Why have you called this an "old men's war"?
It is based on old men's ideas, old men's ideals and frustrations. I am talking about the Belgrade connection — of the old men in the Academy who wished to complete Serb history because it seemed to them that it had not been properly completed in 1918.
The young people infected by the madness of war are in fact, prisoners of this old man's mentality which has seduced them. I doubt that these young men, had they been able to form their own world view and their own understanding of national history, would have voted for this bloodshed.
Look at those coffins on both sides! No young man can remain untouched by them. Ljuba Tadic and Dobrica Cosic of the Academy cry, "Pacifism is treachery"! They have become warmongers, and one day this will rightly be described as a war crime.
[Abridged from International Viewpoint.]