Srđan Dvornik

Srđan Dvornik was born in 1953 in Šibenik. By vocation he is a professor of philosophy and sociology. During his studies in Zagreb he became politically engaged within the framework of the Association of the Faculty of Philosophy Students. He participated in the founding of the Association for Yugoslav Democratic Initiative and later the founding of the Anti-War Campaign. He was particularly engaged with questions relating to conscientious objection and evictions. At the beginning of the 1990s he worked in publishing as an editor. In 1994 he started working as the Executive Director of the Open Society Institute. From 1999 to 2004 he worked at the Heinrich Böll Foundation and later at the Croatian Helsinki Committee. In 2008, after leaving the Croatian Helsinki Committee, he started working as a translator and private consultant. Common to all his work is an obvious devotion to the democratisation of society and the protection of human rights.



[silence] Thank you once again for agreeing to talk to us. To begin with, could you please tell us your name and surname, date and place of birth? My name is Srđan Dvornik. I was born on May 24, 1953 in Šibenik. Could you tell us something about your occupation and line of work today? Formally speaking, I am a professor of sociology and philosophy with a degree in political sciences. I mostly work as a translator, but I also engage in different consulting services, analyses and studies related to these social, non-profit topics as well as problems and activities related to human rights, democratic initiatives and the like. Could you tell us something about the origin of your family? A brief outline of their history? Although I have spent more than 90 percent of my life in Zagreb, the entire family history is tied to Dalmatia. Both of my grandmothers, my paternal as well as my maternal grandmother, come from Brač. One of my grandfathers comes from Split, which is where my surname, Dvornik, comes from. My other grandfather comes from Starigrad on Hvar. In the period between the two world wars, due to the economic circumstances, they moved a lot, looking for and following their work, so they lived in various places in Dalmatia. In the 1930s, they somehow ended up in Šibenik, which was also where my parents met later on. To your knowledge, was your family in Šibenik in any way affected by WWII? Or took part in it? My father's family was more actively involved. I can't recall what my grandfather was doing there at the time. But his health significantly deteriorated due to all the circumstances of the war. He never recovered, he suffered from it until his death in 1955. And my grandmother was involved in some illegal work. Once, she told me about carrying some hand grenades in a shopping bag, grenades which some younger boys, including my father and his brother, had stolen from the Italians. These had to be smuggled to the partisans. My father and his brother, as members of the League of Young Communists, also took part in illegal work in Šibenik. Mostly intelligence, but sometimes some weapon procurement such as this as well. But, mostly, thanks to their fluency in Italian and German, they gathered information, even through contact with ordinary soldiers, and passed it on to the partisans. Did anyone in your family get hurt in WWI? Not through direct participation in the fighting, nor was anyone killed in the battles or the bombings. No. My mother's brother joined the partisans when he was quite young. I'm not sure, he was a kid, still very young. He was 16 in 1941, but he had joined the partisans very early on. After the war, he even retained an officer position in the JNA air force. He was wounded, but not gravely, nor did it have any lasting aftereffects such as disability for him. I would estimate that my family was affected by the war as much as any other one, having an average involvement in the war. It could hardly happen that somebody was not at all affected by the war. After all, Šibenik was targeted by some heavy bombing as well. But my family hasn't been severely affected by the war. What memories do you have of your early youth? Were you still living in Šibenik, or did you live somewhere else? I don't really have any memories of Šibenik from that time of my life. I was born there, but, for a little while, when I was still a baby, I stayed with my grandmother on Brač. Then, as my parents went to work in Lukavac, and later on Tuzla, that was where I spent the first 4 years of my life. That was also where my brother was born, when I wasn't even 2 years old. In Lukavac. That's close to Tuzla. And then, in 1957, when I was 4 years old, my parents found work in Zagreb. Then they moved here and have lived here ever since. I have no particularly prominent memories from that time. When you're a very small kid, it's very difficult to discern anything as specific to your area. Everything is new to you when you're a kid, wherever it happens. I do remember one thing, and it's quite odd that I do, since I was so young. I remember something that would today be designated a cultural shock. When I arrived to Zagreb, I was under the impression that the people here were speaking in a completely different language. That is, that my speech was foreign to them. Granted, my combination of Dalmatian and Bosnian speech did have some common ground with this Zagreb kajkavian speech, but it also had so many differences that, for a while, I had trouble adapting to it, as well as trouble with basic communication. What was your family's attitude towards ethnic identity? And how did it reflect on your upbringing? My parents were first and foremost truly staunch Communists. They understood Communism as a historical project worth advocating, something that could bring about true equality, not just formal, but social and every other kind of equality as well. Their position was quite pronounced, in a way that consciously departed from all divisions based on national or ethnic affiliation. It didn't adhere to some surrogate affiliation with a quasi... It didn't follow this pattern, finding surrogate affiliation in Yugoslavianism or something like that. They simply maintained that it was pointless to acquire this kind of identification as something marking one's identity. One has many disagreements with one's parents. I may have sometimes been too much of an anarchist, or too radical a leftist for them, but we never disagreed on this particular point. Nor was it an imposing ideology. I have seen it in people whose background was in families that highly valued their national identity, that is, nationalist families, or people whose families opted for true Yugoslavianism as an identification, an affiliation much like national identification. As much as this is forgotten today, it was also very much present. I know that my coevals had many great conflicts and falling-outs with their parents in these kinds of families. My parents' attitude was unobtrusive and inclusive, which made it easier for us to get along. Whether I was marked by it as heritage or as my own choice, I can't say or know. In any case, it has ancient roots. Just like I was already the third generation of religionless people in my family. Your family had no religious identity? That's right. Beginning with my grandmother. The same grandmother who took part in the illegal resistance in the war, she was completely indifferent towards it. It took hold and continued from her on. I know that my maternal grandmother was a believer. But she belonged to the best kind of believers. Those people who believe in God in a way in which one believes in something good. In positive values. She used to say: "It makes no difference that you don't go to church and don't pray. I pray for you as well." And she never would have done what grandmothers used to do in these intergenerational conflicts, christening their grandchildren in secret or things like that. It was quite similar to the relation towards national identification in my family. A kind of very pleasant, peaceful coexistence between those who believe in something and those who don't believe in anything otherworldly, who put their faith in the values of this world. Did you notice any differences between yourself and your coevals when it came to national identity? Were there any conflicts or disagreements? Not until1970. It simply wasn't a topic of conversation. And when I reminisced... In elementary school, for example, which I attended until 1968, there were names and surnames that we would later clearly recognize as Serbian. Or as Bosniac. Several Macedonians, etc. But I only remember it when thinking back on it. Ah, yes, this name and surname is actually connected to it. It simply wasn't an issue at the time. Nor was there an attitude such as: "I don't care who comes from where." No, I wasn't even aware that there was such a thing as being from here rather than there. Or anything similar. The only difference I noticed was that as a Dalmatian, formed in Bosnia through primary language socialisation, I arrived to Zagreb and noticed a difference in speech. Consequently, I saw that some differences were based on where you were from. And later on one notices that, at the time, in the 1950s, most of these malicious jokes based on collective stereotypes about Dalmatians were in circulation in Zagreb. Then, of course, as I somewhat belonged to that category, I noticed it. But these national, ethnic, fratricidal differences from Yugoslavia, no. I discovered those just before I came of age. You said it was 1968. - 1970. I mentioned 1968, that was when I finished elementary school. Why 1970? Because that was when this wave of nationalism, which was induced from on high, began. And then it suddenly became a big deal. A year later, at the time of the census in the spring of 1971, all of a sudden everyone was very outspoken in declaring themselves. The discourse resembled the one surrounding political elections nowadays. As if it was a matter of political alternatives. I was appalled by the meaning of nationalism in everyday life, in political life and culture, actually, wherever you turned. At the level of totalitarianism in this ideology. That was what I experienced. It was one of my first encounters with politics. When you're a teenager, you hear many things, but you don't feel like they concern you. You were 18 in 1970, 1971? You were already up to date with political developments. That's right. In 1970, when I was about to turn 17, I first glimpsed politics as an arena where something that affected society, lives, relations was taking place. And my first impression was shockingly negative. What did you think of the events centering around MASPOK, that is, the Croatian Spring? Yes, this romantic appellation; the Croatian Spring. It's one of these lying formulations such as the denomination of war veterans as defenders, such as the Homeland War, such as the national liberation struggle, all these things, this beautification in reverse. I experienced it, even nowadays, when I had the opportunity to think more critically about it and read many things, I experienced it as an incredible compound of an ideological change induced from on high, from the highest political echelons, and a mass mobilisation from below. This rarely succeeds. It's probably the biggest fantasy of every power-wielder. To start a process which is actually their own score-settling of one fraction against another. And manage to mobilise mass support for their side. And I wonder, at least in our parts, whether anything other than nationalism can trigger this. Can people be mobilised by any other cause? Mass movement, that's another deceptive expression. That was a mass movement, but it was induced by the authoritative Party leadership. And it began as a rupture on high, in the leadership of the League of Communists of Croatia. During which a clear signal was sent out to the public, indicating that nationalism was no longer a bogeyman. And that displays of nationalism would go unpunished. This happened 3 years after the first public event that brought the problem of nationalism, so to say, into the open. And that was the Declaration on the Status and Name of the Croatian Literary Language. At the time, all these authoritative Party entities had condemned it as nationalism. And I do believe that was the motivation behind it. But there were real problems regarding the then language policy which was, unlike the later separatist, truly unificatory. No good ever comes out of politically forcing a process that is not already at work in the life of the language. In 1967 nationalism was still harshly condemned. Beginning with the 10th conference of the Central Commitee of the League of Communists of Croatia, which took place in February 1970, a signal was sent to society, indicating that the main problem was no longer nationalism, but something that they designated unitarism. You are referring to the score-settling with Žanko? - Yes. And then eveything took off. There was even a kind of liberalisation. It can probably be interpreted as the whole Yugoslavian regime entering a kind of liberalisation. An attempt to maintain the system through a kind of reform. So there was, first and foremost, the liberalisation of the economy. Which only led to greater instability. They were even scared by its results because a transition to full market economy doesn't happen just like that. It claims victims. But it also brought about a struggle for influence between various republican Party leaderships. As well as clashes regarding the distribution of power and resources between the League of Communists of Yugoslavia and the leaderships of the republics. And the leadership of the League of Communists of Croatia with Savka Dapčević Kučar. Public support came in handy in this struggle, of course. For a while, they believed, and managed to pull it off for almost 2 years, that they would be able to restrain it. That they would be able to keep this movement from below, without it ever escalating into a real movement, because they would be heading it all along, keeping a tight rein on it. Thanks to this desire to empower the support from below many things had to be released and liberalised, so the number of publications published by Matica hrvatska and some cultural institutions increased. Croatian Weekly (Hrvatski tjednik) is the best known. And in these publications there was an impression of increased freedom. But, once again, it was the freedom of the unison within this nationalist politics and ideology. For example, at the University, where there was an active minority struggling against this, it was violently shoved aside when necessary. Friends of mine who were already studying at various faculties, who saw and experienced it themselves told me about some of these events. I even saw some of them. Not the violent ones. But, for example, the beginning of the student strike late in 1971. You were already in Zagreb? I was in Zagreb since 1957. - You were a student? No, not yet, but everyone was talking about it. And anyone could come to various happenings. I was in the hall of the Student Centre when the Student Alliance of Croatia made the decision to extend the strike from Zagreb to all of Croatia. And it was plain to see that there was practically no space, that there was no pluralism and no democracy there. It was an unisonous expression of support to one and the same thing. The only friction appeared because the student leaders believed that the Party leadership might betray them by not going the distance in a radical manner. The symbol of the dispute was the matter of the foreign bills of exchange. A part of Yugoslavia's economy was capable of export. Perhaps not ready to withstand full competition. But they could do business in the half-sheltered markets of eastern Europe or the nonaligned countries. There was some income from foreign trade. From export. And the main apple of discord was the matter of where these foreign bills of exchange would wind up. And, rather indicatively, the issue was only whether they would end up in Belgrade or Zagreb, or Ljubljana, depending on the viewpoint of the speakers. But the issue wasn't whether they would end up in the companies that had actually produced them. No, it was clear that they were at the disposal of a political unit. The only issue revolved around whether it was going to be a federal or republic unit. In this radicality of the struggle for our foreign exchange bills, the students believed that the Party leadership would stop upon reaching a certain point. Which was, of course, a very realistic assessment. Did you witness the clash of the student strike? I saw some of it on the TV. Granted, there was no live coverage. And people talked about it. I saw. As I lived in the vicinity of Cvjetno naselje, then I saw all these police units surrounding the student dorm in Cvjetno naselje. I went to school there up until 3 years before that. It was my neighbourhood, where I had many friends. I didn't witness the melees on the Republic Square. My friends told me about it. Some of them took part in it as well. All of a sudden you discover differences in these coeval groups. Some of them were into this student nationalist movement heart and soul. So they joined it even though they were still in high school. Later on, it became clear that some vulnerable points of the regime had been encroached upon. Because the clash was brutal. Of course, my claim that there wasn't even a shred of democracy in this nationalist movement doesn't rule out the contention that there was no trace of democracy nor respect for political freedom in the way the movement was dealt with. A repression much like the one in Belgrade 1968 ensued. Very many people ended up in prison, many lost their jobs, etc. When did you enrol in the University? Right after that. In 1972. It was immediately after the student strike had been crushed. What was the atmosphere at the faculty like? Personally, at the time I wasn't aware of the level of this horrible repression. That sort of repression belongs to the arena of the persecution of the so called delict of thought. Personally, as I saw this nationalist movement as very repressive and exclusive. My girlfriend's friend was beaten up in late 1971. Because some students, strangers she was passing by in the street, told her: "Merry Christmas." She replied: "I don't celebrate that." And they beat her up. And that wasn't an isolated case. So I was quite pleased that all these nationalists were removed from the public eye. Afterwards, I learned how many people had ended up in prison just because of their political standpoint or some words that they said. And how unjust this was. But, since I came to study at the Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences, where a specific atmosphere prevailed, the politics that I saw in action there were the very lively activities of a leftist group that was very critical towards the regime, but from a completely different standpoint, a group that was equally critical towards nationalism, and believed that the kind of political system that was created under the designation of socialism was still reproducing the class system. Meaning, a part of society was still doing most of the production, they were the exploited. And the working class still existed. The only difference was that pure capitalists were replaced by, as we called them, the red bourgeoisie. That was a section of politically active students. Even organised. However, not autonomously, because that wasn't possible at the time, but through the Student Alliance. Until they broke us up. It partly relied on the heritage of what the student movement of 1968 had argued for. Did you join this group? - Yes, of course. What were your activities? What did you do? We organised some panels. The nice thing about the faculty was that it enabled you to bypass many technical and legal obstacles that you were normally surrounded by in such a regime. To organise a public panel on a political topic, which is nowadays so easy to do that probably nobody is going to show up unless the subject is particularly stormy, sensitive and controversial. At the time you couldn't do it at all unless you already had an institution. Since the second half of the 1960s, a recognised public discussion always took place at the Student Centre, at 5 minutes past 8 pm, when the halls would be overflowing with people, a discussion with an amazing turnout because it was the only place that the Party didn't completely control, neither in topic nor in the choice of speakers, and other matters were discussed. Which topics were covered in these panels? Right now, I can only think of one where our late philosophy professor Branko Bošnjak spoke to Mijo Škvorc, forming a dialogue between a Marxist and a Christian. Without any censorship, the man who was in the Marxist position was one of the Praxis dissidents. And the man in the Christian position was not a dissident within the Church, but he didn't have to censor himself out of fear from the regime. That was the liberalisation of the late 1960s. We organised panels on all kinds of topics. I can't even think of them now. We organised some culture days, as alternative as anything could get then. It was a storm in a teacup, really, if the whole society is taken into consideration. But it was very important to us. At the Faculty, we had fervent disagreements with the Party organisation. We leaned towards social liberalisations. Truth be told, in all fairness, none of the nationalists or the leftists ever mentioned some basic hallmarks of liberal democracy such as the freedom of political organisation, direct elections, political pluralism or anything of the kind. No. We advocated social justice. And the nationalists advocated national independence and autonomy, etc. What did you think of the political system of Yugoslavia? Of SFRJ? I thought it was utterly wrong to control the social life, intellectual and cultural activities and exchange, the expression of ideas, etc. through the Party power centre, regardless of whether this centre was Yugoslavian or Croatian. But I have to admit that I was a bit slow in this matter. Until 1990 I didn't believe that a multiparty system was the solution. I thought that no-party democracy might work. Meaning that people would choose their political representatives according to their options, the views and beliefs of the representatives, etc. In the framework of a party, or? - No. Without any frameworks. However, I just anticipated the sceptic attitude towards political parties that everyone has today. At the time, I had read enough of what was written within the realm of political sciences to have no illusions about parties truly representing any social groups or their interests, not even in countries with longstanding democratic tradition. Those were newcomers. The Green Party in Germany was still a very new arrival. Other than these exceptions of parties that really grew out of grass roots social movements, there were no illusions about parties. Even then, in the political disputes of the 1970s, we believed that a desirable alternative to this sclerotic political system could be found in a radical interpretation of self-management. As a kind of grass roots democracy in the production sphere. That it could be extended to a system used in all social relations. In any case, the authority of the Party was something that... Granted, our concepts were not very well-thought-out and elaborated at the time, but they were a response. We reacted, assumed a reactive position. The reign of the Party enabling narrow-minded mediocrities who cared only about staying in power and controlling everything, the system that gave them the opportunity to function in the only way they knew how, by controlling whatever they could and smothering what they could not, that needed to be brought down at any rate. Did you see any exceptions within this Party system, anything you thought of differently? - No. Not party hacks, but... - No. The very few exceptions were some intellectuals who believed that they could, through taking the Party at its word, holding it to its program, holding it to its highest declared objectives, accomplish something through it. All the Praxis dissidents were once members of the Party, but they were all thrown out. There were some others who were not involved in such radical conflicts. But expecting someone enlightened within the Party itself was perhaps a naive illusion one could have harboured in the very beginning. But it wasn't a belief, it was story you could buy until you had a closer look. But things were more or less clear. Especially in light of the reaction that the mid-1970s saw in response to the danger brought about by the early 1970s and these nationalist movements. That is, no, there was a nationalist movement only in Croatia. But the leadership of the Leagues of Communists of Serbia and Slovenia, without any mass movements, also tried to gain more independence. Were they replaced as well? Those in Serbia were condemned as liberals and replaced. In Croatia and Slovenia they were condemned as nationalists and replaced. But, at the time, I didn't know much about this liberal Serbian leadership. But there were some really decent people there. Which was exactly why they couldn't hold out. Then, during the 1970s, some changes were made in the Constitution. Changes formally marked by introduction of the Law on Associated Work and the creation of the delegate system. Through which the regime itself tried to undergo a reform including the inauguration of an important element of liberalisation, decentralisation. And the establishment of a formal mechanism which indicated that the so called working people and the citizens below were actually the ones making the decisions on everything, choosing the people to decide, etc. But so many complications and so many levels were involved that it wasn't immediately clear, except to several critical thinkers, I remember Žarko Puhovski immediately saying that this was going to be the meaning of these changes. But, gradually, anyone who eyed it critically and at all meticulously realised that the endless complications of the system allowed more maneuver space for the Communist Party, which could then control everything through bypassing the system, and decide on everything in the end. As for the decentralisation that the 1974 Constitution brought by giving the republics more autonomy... By the way, the districts had much more autonomy. Districts were little countries. I don't know how many people remember it today, but the districts had their own police. It wasn't called 'policija', but 'milicija'. But it wasn't directly under the jurisdiction of the republic, it was tied to the district. A great decentralisation took place. But excuse me, I interrupted you when you were about to pose a question. Do you believe that the 1974 Constitution sufficiently weakened the Federation by giving greater autonomy to the republics, which, in the end, through different interpretations of the Constitution, led to the breakup of Yugoslavia? It didn't. Of course, it would be too neat, too simple, and too easy to interpret if changes in normative acts would lead to in-depth social and political changes. But it expressed and created these options. A joke from a much later time in the 1980s describes this excellently. When we began to go through increasing economic difficulties, and even went into regression, which was then erroneously designated a crisis. The system wasn't based on economic efficacy, so the loss of economic efficacy didn't bring it into a crisis. But it did create hardships and dissatisfaction. Here's the joke: How come everything is going so badly and the nationalists are quiet? In the 1980s the system was developing cracks on all sides. And its enemies, the nationalists, weren't taking the opportunity to speak. The answer was: They're confused. All they had ever asked for was introduced, and still everything was going wrong. The leadership, the then still unified leadership of the Party, in which the most active man was not Tito but Edvard Kardelj, drew a lesson from seeing that the effective, successful nationalist mobilisation was possible and strong. And employing the good old corporate paradigm, rather than trying to suppress the differences, it decided to incorporate them. They introduced the postulate of the mass movement, the republic as a national state. And in these damned Balkans this 'national' does not have the civilised meaning of a community of all citizens, rather, it denotes ethnicity. Which means that Franjo Tuđman wasn't the one who first declared Croatia a country of Croats, it was Tito, Kardelj and Bakarić. This Constitution did and did not weaken the Federation. This Constitution strengthened the Party leadership with Tito in the forefront. Because a system in which decisions are reached through a consensus of the republic and district heads, which is what has already been set, when 8 of them have to make a decision, important political decisions, and they have already began to publicly present themselves as representatives of particular interests, later on, the talk of this nonsense called identity would begin, special interests of their own federal units. Then there is no such thing as compromise, much less unison, without an authority to put it all in order. And when the authority disappeared in 1980? Ah, yes. But while he was alive, it was very productive for Tito's reign. The federal centre of power was strengthened by the decentralisation. The European Union is a good example of the same problem. They're also having trouble with this. The density of their relations is much larger than the integration of their political system. A system still partly relying on the consensus of the representations of the national governments of the member states. In Yugoslavia, in a situation in which you had an authority outside the system, Tito was the president, but, formally, there was the presidency of the Party and the presidency of the state, consisting of an equal representation of all the republics and districts, an external scenic arbiter such as Tito had a very wide field to manouver. His hands were completely untied to act as the integralist factor for the very reason that the formal system didn't allow, didn't guarantee integration, and very often didn't even provide an opportunity for it. That's why the turnabout took place. When he died, the decision-making jumped into a greater deficit than the accumulation of revenue. Profit wasn't recognized at the time, what mattered was the accumulation of revenue and the production, enabling people to get everything they needed for a life of quality. That was collapsing, but the political decision-making was in a greater deficit. So it was the creation of a system that served, it was crisis management. It enabled system to get through the crisis of the nationalist decentralisation, to abolish it as something autonomous in a properly Hegelian manner, preserve it and raise it to a higher level in terms of the factors within the system itself. But it was possible to run it only through a personalised political authority. And without a persona, without Tito, it suddenly entered a crisis. The interesting thing is, pardon me, I'd like to just add one more thing, the interesting thing is that, I have my own understanding of it, but I do think it's something still worth discussing in the collective understanding of our past. The interesting thing is that the system didn't collapse in 1980, but in 1990. That's the big question. So, you had undemocratic leaderships in all federal units. Which couldn't get along together. And they managed to stay afloat for 10 years. The simultaneous decline of the economy aside, there was the indebtedness. To begin with, they discovered that the indebtedness already was huge. We woke up after Tito's death when things have just begun to unravel... It took his heirs and his children some time before they realised that daddy was gone, that they were now supposed to do something. Then they slowly started admitting our economic problems into the public debate. And then, all of a sudden, the discovery of 20 billion dollars of debt. It's still in a serious order of magnitude. But 20 billion dollars then, dollars 32 years ago, that was a complete shock. Shortages began, I don't know what... So, the decline of everyday life was palpable. Could you tell us how you, personally, dealt with these shortages, coupons, the odd-even driving restrictions? I didn't drive a car. I didn't care about that part. And I had already heard something about ecology and environmental concerns. And I always thought: the less cars driving around, the better. I didn't care about that at all. But having a newborn child and not knowing whether you would be able to find baby food and diapers. Getting a paycheck or a fee, which would be worth 40 per cent or 3 times less the very next day in foreign exchange bills. It meant being on a constant hunt for what could be obtained. Coffee, butter, like I said, things for the baby. But such everyday things like butter and coffee as well. A frantic rushing to exchange every dinar you got to foreign bills to preserve its value. It meant constantly waiting in lines, chasing foreign bill smugglers around corners and all across the city, waiting in lines in the banks. One could really survive and get by even in this hyperinflation, but at the price of a lot of work and a lot of time. Hyperinflation was good because it made all life on credit, which endemically existed in Yugoslavia already since the second half of the 1960s, much easier. Because the hard-currency clauses, the reassessments of interests, etc. Not even the banking system managed to keep up. And it wasn't allowed to, for political reasons, almost until the end of Yugoslavia. There was no radical impoverishment then, but, all of a sudden, we all had to deal with economics on an obsessive level. Things that were supposed to be routine. All of a sudden that took up most of your time. But the point is in the political side of the story: alongside all that, you have a system incapable of making decisions, whose protagonists, key building blocks, are constantly attacking each other. And consciously insisting on a competitive position in relation to the others. Croatia advocating this, it's in Serbia's interest to do that, Slovenia has other ideas, etc. And they live together for 10 years. Huh? How is that possible? This is where the power of the achieved nationalist identification with a republic showed itself. Before they set out to become independent countries. It was in construction since the late 1960s. It had continuity. Its constitutional acknowledgement was its incorporation into the then regime. Which was what had allowed it to survive. Not only while Tito played the arbiter above the quarrelsome conglomerate comprised of the leaders of the future national states. But even when after he was gone. And when they could reach a consensus on one thing only. Since they were all undemocratically appointed, which was how they had come into power, the only consensus they agreed on was to watch each other's backs against possible discontent from below. And that was frightfully powerful. And that's where the exceptional role of what Slobodan Milošević personifies comes from. Because he went back to what was tried out in Croatia in 1970 and 1971. He went back to the mass nationalist movement. He merely called it an Anti-bureaucratic revolution to cover up this 'nationalist' in the beginning. But it emerged very soon because of Kosovo. You followed the political developments in the other republics on a federal level? - Sure. As far as media went, since a relative liberalisation was at work, there were two excellent newspapers. One was the Belgrade daily newspaper 'Politika', and the other a Belgrade weekly called 'Nin'. It was the height of journalism during Yugoslavia. There you could see everything, not only from Serbia, but from the other states. Written quite professionally, as much as it was possible at the time, providing factual information and coherent interpretations on very many things. And in the autumn of 1987 I realised that something serious had happened, after Milošević's triumph at the 8th Session of the League of Communists of Serbia. It was just like our 10th Session in February 1970. Did you watch the live coverage? - Yes, I did. I recognised that something serious had happened not only because 2 fractions had a quarrel and one of them lost. But because the winning side was on the march, on its way to totalise its success through everything that was happening in society. The Belgrade 'Politika' and 'Nin' turned into rags within a month or two. Suddenly they were no longer worth buying nor reading. It was just one of the indicators of what was happening. Of course, plenty other ugly things were taking place. The symptomatic thing about Milošević's movement was that he had fallen out of this common game that kept them all in power through arguments aimed at the public eye. Not only did they stage their arguments for the public, but they really were at each other's throats over resources and political measures which would suit one or the other side. And, at the same time, they had a nonaggression pact as well as an agreement on common defense against the possible rebellion from below. Milošević fell out of it because he had won the grass root support of his lower echelons through employing this authoritarian nationalist matrix that Savka Dapčević, and Miko Tripalo and company had staged the general rehearsal for. They chose the wrong moment because Tito was still over their heads, so they couldn't go on with the show. Milošević had a wide field to take it all the way. And enough unscrupulousness, or determination and skill, whatever people choose to call it now, to really make Serbia the first separatist republic. And not Slovenia or Croatia. In the autumn of 1990, a few months before the democratic Constitution was passed in Croatia... You mean Christmas? - No, the Christmas one was passed on the Day of the Yugoslav People's Army. December 22. But, since that was the last thing that they wanted to tie to this as a holiday, they glued the holiday that took place 3 days later onto it. A few months before this Constitution, Serbia, under Milošević, passed a Constitution deeming Serbia an independent national state. But it also liked working both sides of the street. Because it still benefitted from being in Yugoslavia. Just like the Croatian Constitution of December 1990 wasn't separatist yet. And the Serbian Constitution included a deliberate absurd: Serbia was an independent country, but this was achieved without leaving Yugoslavia. However, Yugoslavian laws were applicable only if they didn't go against the interests of Serbia. They retained the freedom of arbitrarily deciding which laws would be implemented, and which would not. And this appearance of Milošević as a national leader, no longer relying on the suport of the others, but having his own support from below, caused panic. And then the other leaders, first of all, in Croatia and Serbia... Granted, in Croatia the leaders hesitated for a moment, because they had legitimacy issues. They were inflicted on Croatia after the violent suppression of the mass movement in 1971. But there was no such hesitatation in Slovenia. But the political public in Croatia, pushing its leaders to act, talking about 'Croatian silence', asking them to radicalise matters as well. Upon the emergence of Milošević's movement, again manipulated from above, but apparently fuelled by mass participation from below, everyone reacts as if it were a national menace. Although there is no trace of any endangerment of Slovenia, Croatia, or anything like that in 1987, 1988. Slovenia was never even threatened by Milošević's regime. But he came in handy for them, aiding their own nationalist mobilisation. Because the pact of common protection was now obviously failing. He no longer needed them. But they kept on still playing that game. It always takes longer for all the consequences to sink in, longer than it does for the events themselves to take place. Throughout the 1980s, even with Milošević in power, on the federal level, Serbia was allowed to act as arbiter in Kosovo. Regardless of the existence of this incoherent system through which the provinces, that is, parts of a republic, were at the same time direct members of the Federation. Did you follow, were you informed about what happened in Kosovo in 1981? Sure. It was the talk of the town. Everyone knew about the demonstrations in 1981, about Kosovo's claims for independence as a republic, about the repression. Information didn't circulate through normal channels, media couldn't send a reporter to the scene and get some real information, such a thing was not possible. But there were rumours, there were always people who were better informed, and we heard that about 900 people were killed in the suppression of these demonstrations in the early 1980s. There was even a cruel joke. At the same time, the Solidarity movement was taking place. In 1980, 1981, there were rebellions in Poland. And more suppression, de facto a military coup, almost. Calling it a military coup would be wrong because the Polish army didn't act on its own, it was carrying out orders from Moscow. 9 people were killed in the direct conflicts between the army and the people resisting them. In Poland. And the official news said that in Kosovo in Yugoslavia, in the beginning of 1980, 1981 at most, 9 people died as well. And then there was this joke: How many Albanians died in Kosovo? Or, rather, as jokes are neither politically nor morally correct, the formulation was: How many Shiptars died in Kosovo? And it said: 9, but new ones. What does 'new ones' mean? In the economic reform, in 1965 we had a monetary reform in which 1 dinar replaced 100 old ones. So that when you said something new, it meant it was worth a 100 of the old ones. 9 Albanians were killed, but new ones, which means 900. That was how that joke expressed that story as well. Yes. We followed many things, as much as was possible. Besides, as a consequence of this odd, ethnic pluralisation during the 1980s, the media in Croatia, and the media in Slovenia especially, reported much more on what was happening on Kosovo. Much more than the media in Serbia once they had all fallen under Milošević's control. So that one could access information. Just to point something out: although in Slovenia the public had already condemned the repression used on those miners who had shut themselves in Stari Trg, they had this kind of suicidal strike, the federal presidency still allowed the army to intervene. This reflex of suppressing and preventing any revolt from below, even if it was the enemy of my enemy, was still strong. The triumph of Milošević, who had reached his position through formal means: he became the Chairman of the League of Communists of Serbia in 1986. But he really assumed power after the internal conflict in which he eliminated the opposing fractions, in the autumn of 1987. And when he eliminated his predecessor Ivan Stambolić, first from political life, and 10 years or more after that by taking his life. On the one hand this meant that the nonaggression and common protection pact was disrupted. But this change didn't arrive overnight. The system still worked in such a way that he was, from Croatia and Slovenia, still granted the right to, as far as the provinces were concerned, alter the arrangements, take away their autonomy. And nobody disturbed him in this. They even made official decisions regarding Kosovo. Because he couldn't have the JNA at his disposal for interventions without the confirmation of the collective presidency. They continued doing that. Moreover, a sign that they all favoured the nationalist approach because it allowed them to do whatever they wanted in their backyards could be distinguished in their treatment of these initiatives, present until the end of 1988, the democratic transformation that was already in the air and already seemed unavoidable, while, from our point of view, it presented something desirable and possible for the regime. From Slovenia, across Croatia to Serbia, the same consensus of Party leaderships was still in operation, dedicated not to allow democratic, direct elections for the Federal Assembly. Allowing democratisation, democratic elections, pluralist, direct, only in the republics. The thought of having a democratically legitimate supranational body on the level of Yugoslavia, that was... Regardless of whether they were bragging about their great democratic qualities as the Slovenians did, or the Croatians, a bit more shy about it, or whether they had this nationalist, more of an authoritarian, populist rhetoric like in Serbia with its Anti-bureaucratic revolution. But they all calmly and placidly agreed that there mustn't be any federal democratic elections. You mentioned the factional clash eliminating Stambolić and Dragiša Pavlović, the effect of the Anti-bureaucratic revolution in the provinces and Montenegro. Seeing all that, did you think about whether they were going to continue their, so to say, march in the other republics? Everyone else was thinking about it, so that my contribution wasn't required. I was thinking about how they were taking very good advantage of it for a nationalist mobilisation in Croatia and Slovenia. Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were standing there a bit confused, to put it in personified, or personalised terms. That's why I spoke of their pact of mutual protection at such length. The so called people, the crowd from below was their common enemy. Until Milošević managed to nationalistically mobilise the populace for himself. And becoming independent of the others. But there was no danger in that for Croats, or Croatia and Slovenia. But, when the complete breakup of Yugoslavia was underway, then Milošević had his chance, since he had managed to win over the JNA to his side. Because he was, again, smarter than the others. He was the only one to rhetorically advocate the sustainment and preservation of Yugoslavia. And then his regime saw a chance to try and claim whatever it could of the territories of the neighbouring republics, that is, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. But his nationalist movement of the so called Anti-bureaucratic revolution posed a danger to Croatia and Slovenia only in its nationalist ideology. Not in any reality. They mobilised everything they could, as if the world was coming to an end, as if they were facing a coup in Slovenia, when these nationalist leaders from Kosovo announced that they were coming to Slovenia to hold their so called "truth rally" there. The Mladina journal was the only one that reacted cooly. "What's that to us? All they need to do is report their desired location to the police. And book rooms for themselves in the hotels. That's their problem." But the nationalist media, which were the majority, and the nationalist politicians, once more, the majority, with the support of the independent cultural national intelligence, as is always the case around here, made such an overblown circus out of it, as if they were facing a threat of being trampled over by an army of a million zealous fighters about to enslave the whole of Slovenia. They painted a distorted picture. And these very theatrics testify to the ostensible threat coming from Serbia at the time, what we would nowadays call a political spin, but with extremely hard, palpable consequences in the war later on. Before we move on to the 1990s, I'd like to ask you whether you served in the JNA? I did. How did you experience it? Where did you serve? When? Fortunately, not too far away from home. I was stationed in Benkovac. It's on the railway line from Zagreb to Zadar, so I could sometimes travel home without excessive complications. And my wife and friends came to visit me. The experience was a complete abominability. I don't think I would have felt very different if they had sent me to prison instead. Having to be there in that closed space. I'm not referring to the containment of 4 walls, but a closed space surrounding you even when you're under the open sky. Kicked around by some halfwitted squad leaders. Doing pointless things, strenuous and inconveniencing at that. I was a bit older than customary when I served the army. It was in 1979. I was almost 26 and a half years old. I potponed it for as long as I could. From a functional point of view, it bordered on collapse. Thinking that this creation could ever have some kind of role in, God forbid, defending the country or anything like that. I didn't think it would last any longer than the Royal Yugoslav Army did in the April War in 1941, capitulating in less than 2 weeks. Truly, the level of incompetence in handling things... I was in some kind of platoon with a recoilless... So, we had one of these, as they called it, artillery pieces, a weapon was something one person could use, a gun, pistol, bomb, machine gun, mortar, and this was an artillery piece, a recoilless gun requiring a crew of 5 people. In the end, one of the more sound and educated officers told us its story. It was an artillery piece that did its share in the Korean war in 1951. That was the last time it was actually usable. It was something used against tanks. It fired a missile similar to the ones in mortars. But it fired horizontally, that is, aslant, as these things went. And it was supposed to fight tanks because it had this cummulative projectile able to go through their armour. However, tanks, the speed at which gun turrets moved, the level of precision, the sight and all that had advanced so much in these nearly 30 years, 28, 29 years since the Korean war. And this one stayed as it was. Heavy. To haul it anywhere, transfer it from position to position, all 4, 5 men had to pull with all their might. It was something incredible, if you fired it in some hypothetical combat situation, fired this missile at the tank, first of all, it was recoilless because it let out all those exhaust gases behind it. You created such fireworks that you could be spotted out of a satellite in the Earth's orbit. Let's say you miss that tank, or you hit one, but there are more, they could set their sight on you in 3 seconds and shower you with gunfire. And you would barely have the time to begin pulling it into another trench, a reserve position. If this thing ever ended up on an actual battle field, you wouldn't need an enemy, you would destroy yourself with it. And there were many, many other things like that. Personally, I managed to get out of it through having some typewriting skills. So I escaped from the infantry training to an office. But then I saw an interesting side of all this, stemming from the fact that I was in the army at the same time that Tito was dying in Ljubljana during those 4 months, after which he finally died. So, I was sent to the army in the autumn of 1979. And I was discharged in the summer of 1980. I managed to scrape out every possible reduction. But I was able to observe all kinds of things during these 4 months. The first thing was the overwhelming paranoia of the whole regime. When my best friend returned from his leave over the New Year of 1979 to 1980, granted, he was in Velenje, but he had stopped by in Ljubljana before making his journey back. And the taxi driver told him that Tito, after the New Year's celebration, which was, I think, in that hill near Kranj, where he had one of those presidential palaces, mansions, he had been urgently taken to the Ljubljana Clinical Centre. He told him everyone was in a state of panic. As taxi drivers were already equipped with radio transmitters, they had a reputation for always being better informed than others, and passing on the correct information. So, he came to tell them what happened to Tito. And the media didn't release it until a couple of days later, reporting that Tito had serious heath problems, that he had to remain in the hospital. From that moment on we were confined to the area of the barracks, without any rights of leave, not only were the longer visits home forbidden, but the visits to the town as well. Thank goodness, there were no mobile phones at the time, so we couldn't feel the pain of those being taken away as well. But all the small radios and transistors we had so we could listen to music, the news, whatever we wanted, I had one of them too, were taken away. An order was issued to collect all of them. And store them in the command headquarters. We weren't dispossessed. We were all supposed to get them back in the end. But it was a signal of panic for the army, and they assumed we could be targeted by enemy propaganda or who knows what. Officers intensified the on-duty measures. Many of them, but not all of them, slept in the barracks every night. The regime they created resembled war preparations, as if we were about to be attacked. But there were no real war preparations, we didn't take out the real battle armaments, which were not used in our stupid training, we didn't have to take them out of the storage depots, reactivate them or anything else. They were just alarmed. It was more of a political alert, a sort of political alarm that went on for months. Which those of us in the army experienced very traumatically. Firstly, not being able to leave the area of the barracks was awful. It really intensified the feeling of being in prison. Secondly, the presence of the officers in the barracks day and night was horrible. Because of the general state of disarray in the whole military institution, which really gave the impression that it was about to fall apart, when the working hours of the officers were over and they left, only one stayed on duty. But that one was somewhere getting drunk, solving crosswords, phoning his lover through the military telephone exchange or God knows what else. I've seen all of these things happen. But he doesn't get in the way. And when the officers are finally gone, the regular life of the barracks disappears. When they leave, all of a sudden, the rumpus begins. Some brought hookers to the barracks through the wire and fence. Some used this same wire or other holes in the wire to get out. Those who were on good terms with the storage workers and cooks robbed the food supplies in the evening, throwing feasts for themselves. Using the supplies intended for daily usage. All in all, a sense of freedom would reign. With the officers inside, all these things suddenly disappeared. Then everybody had to scrape along somehow. And then one could overhear many conversations. From many conversations with the officers, as well as conversations they had among themselves, and I was a scribe, so I was inside their office, closer than the other soldiers, I gathered that, although nobody had told them so explicitly, no order was issued, there was no political analysis or piece of information that they received, but everybody understood that this whole mobilisation was caused by fear of something on the inside, rather than the outside. That was why, like I said, we were not taking out any guns. Because, according to their doctrine, in Benkovac, we were the hinterland of the coast, of Zadar and so. We were supposed to be the front line of defense in case of NATO's seaborne attack across the Adriatic, from Italy. That assignment was in force for everyone, from Istria in the north to Montenegro in the south. But there were no military preparations. Rather, they understood that Tito's death could mean a possible destabilisation of the regime from the inside. Some of these political things were already noticeable. What about the atmosphere after Tito's death? Well, then that... Whatever your opinion of him was, it was a shock and change for everyone. Not really like fatherless children, or, at least, not everyone. But it was obvious that now something was going to change. Besides, we were deafened by those commemorations, those things. It lasted for a month, two or three. The only good thing was the proclamation of a week of national mourning because then, all of a sudden, they played really great music on the radio. This stupid pop music and turbo folk came to an end. They played serious, classical music. They played very jovial things as well. But, to people who don't like it, all classical music is sad. For example, you could hear a cheerful Händel canatata or something of that sort. But, no, it was all... I culturally profited from Tito's death through good radio program. You can imagine what sort of music they usually played through the barracks loudspeakers. Predominantly turbo folk. Up until then, I wasn't even aware of the existence of that genre. Before that, I lived in another world. And when he died, within the barracks you couldn't hear anything normal for quite a while. Nothing but these commemorative things. The constant reading of some speeches... A competition in ideological ardour among all these officers and noncommissioned officers was on as well. Every troop, every platoon, every last one of them was writing letters to the Presidency of the Party assuring them we would follow Tito's path. And then they read it in public... We were on constant shock therapy with an additional IV of ideology. And then it all settled down. Then, I suppose, everyone was so happy because they realised that the world hadn't ended, that things were somehow moving on. By the time these negative, up until then, well hidden economic matters started coming out, I had already been discharged from the army. That story actually began sometime at the end of 1980, the beginning of 1981. The shock from the demonstrations in Kosovo and the brutal suppression. These things were already out by then. In the late 1980s or in 1990, 1991, when did it occur to you that this breakup of Yugoslavia, this desintegration, was going to turn into a war? It never occurred to me. When it began, I still couldn't believe it. I found it so absurd. That's what happens when things get too close and you no longer want to analyse them. And you had an additional resistance towards it because every nationalist paranoiac says he saw it coming. But not because he knew it was going to happen, rather, because nationalist paranoiacs have to claim such things are coming. Regardless of the real state of affairs. Like a broken clock that tells the right time twice a day. No. I was in utter disbelief. Even when the JNA attacked some of these posts in Slovenia. It's wrong to call it an attack on Slovenia, they were in Slovenia. And Slovenia was a part of their legitimate domain. Even when it began, 2 days after the declaration of independence, on June 27, 1991, I still thought it was just a show of force, some sort of incident, a quarrel that was going to end in a political compromise. Besides, in Croatia, the war progressed at a snail's pace. The war arrived slowly. And there was a lot of manipulation in the media. Until mid-September, Tuđman claimed that the JNA was not the enemy, the JNA wasn't going to attack us. That it's all a misunderstanding, ignited by these Serbian extremists here and those installed from Serbia, which was, granted, all true. It's also true that the JNA had no strategy. It didn't give out any signals of what it was up to. If the JNA had a strategy to gain control over all of Croatia, it wouldn't have withdrawn from Karlovac. That's one piece of knowledge in military geography I acquired while I was in the army. Because some captain first class wanted to take the exam for major. And as this was during these long days of sitting around in the barracks during Tito's dying, he used me as a scribe to help him prepare for his exam in military geography. Then I was able to read many of their manuals. And I learned that Karlovac was the biggest garrison, the place with the largest concentration of soldiers and equipment in all of Yugoslavia. The reason for this was that Karlovac was the bulwark of defense. In case of an invasion from the East, because nobody could stop those tens of thousands of Soviet tanks in the Pannonian Plain. And the JNA strategy had given up on using Zagreb as the bulwark of the defense. Generally, a big city is like a jungle, a big city is a great seat of defense. And they had given up on it because it would mean the destruction of the city. Nowadays, nationalists would never concede that the JNA took care to spare their city. At the price of withdrawing further inland. But, as Karlovac was where the mountainous parts began, and they, in line with partisan tradition, loved forests and mountains, then Karlovac would be the stronghold of their defense on that side. Additionally, in case of an invasion from the West, through Istria or the Adriatic coast, Karlovac would be close enough as a background source of reinforcements and resources for those who were holding the first lines down below. That's why Karlovac had such an enormous concentration. Which leads to the conclusion that, if the JNA had wanted to take control over all of Croatia, all it needed to do was to sit tight in Karlovac. There were more soldiers than people there. And it would have been like putting a lock to the whole country. The railway lines and roads between the north and south of Croatia pass through Karlovac as well. Since you were excluding the routes through Bosnia and Herzegovina. And there would have been no way out. Much indecisiveness was involved in all of that. I think that Tuđman's leadership, Tuđman himself and everyone around him, were going out on a limb with the declaration of independence. We'll just declare this. A bluff, right? And we'll see. Either they won't dare to use force to stop us. Or the West will help us if they do. Neither of the two happened. Because they did use force to stop us, since the JNA's ideology, doctrine, policy and regulatory rules legitimately made us its domain. Just like Slovenia before us. They didn't let go so easily. The EU and the USA never even dreamed of burdening themselves with another war on account of some batty nationalists who wanted to play at becoming independent. They had no issues with an integral Yugoslavia. It wasn't a problem. And being pulled into war by nationalist gamblers, well, they didn't admit to that even when it was obvious that everything was going to hell. They never took an active part in it until 1995, when Clinton decided to, as the saying went at the time, get it out of the headlines. We had a war at a snail's pace. Nobody really acknowledged it. The JNA didn't attempt to subdue all of Croatia. The Karlovac example clearly demonstrates that. It was operating along some ethnic map of its own devising. It decided where it wouldn't get involved with Croatian forces, the police and the new creation of the Croatian National Guard, and where it would put a stop to their interventions. They were obviously acting upon their ethnically drawn lines. The Croatian police was able to intervene in Pakrac. It wasn't able to intervene in Knin. Because the JNA wouldn't let them. To this day they can't agree on whether the occupation of Vukovar, where they dug themselves in and destroyed everything for 3 months was necessary, or they shold have gone around it and headed westwards. To attack Osijek, or also go around it and attack Zagreb, or not? They were also caught off guard by this. The JNA paid the price for being an ideologised army. Functioning only based on the presumption of the reality of what the regime ideology was saying. While the people were mostly still in favour of Yugoslavia. In the first couple of days of the conflicts in Slovenia, they were making scandalised statements: "My goodness, they have cut off our bread delivery." Or: "They have cut off our electricity and water supply." Well, you don't tell me. And why wouldn't they? When you acted as an enemy, aggressive force. No, they were certain that the nationalist leadership was manipulating the poor people whose majority was on the side of the Army and Yugoslavia. They didn't have good political analyses. Even before the war in 1991, early on in 1991, they came up with some political proclamations against these new nationalist leaderships. As if that was going to actually work on anybody. So, there were many excuses for people like me, who wouldn't believe that we were truly dashing headlong into a war. Because there were many incomplete or ambiguous moves. To put it in these terms. You spoke of Milošević, his politics, his intentions. And how did you see Tuđmana and his rhetorics, his rise to power? Like pitch darkness. He just used a new base of legitimacy and returned us to the post-1945 era. A revolutionary government with the whole society at its disposition, like putty in its hands, taking on any shape it desires. Overshadowed by the war. Was it really revolutionary, or? - Yes. In the sense of revolution as an impingement upon society, a launching of social changes which no longer dance to the same music. Just 2 things. Putting aside this national mobilisation that contributed to the war. Croatia is not a passive victim of the war. Croatia is a victim of the war, but it is not a passive victim in regard to its political leadership. But putting even that aside. Overshadowed by the war, what kind of reform did the the economic system undergo? Everything was in public ownership and run through self-management. What did the Croatian state do? It returned everything to state ownership. Before the privatisation. Before the privatisation, there was a step backwards. There was a return to the same state of affairs as in the Stalin and Soviet Union beginning with the late 1920s until the end. Making the state the owner of everything. This was the quiet fall of self-managment. Because everyone was drunk with the tale of a national country. And then there was the war, a time in which one didn't ask questions, but tried to defend oneself, or hide in an effort to preserve one's life. A time in which you realised that you were endangered by your own people, not just the enemy. A time in which everyone knew that people were quietly disappearing, that they were being killed and all that. Everything was great, a revolution including a revolutionary terror, an usurpation of all social resources under state control, and then their division based on political credentials. One thing. The second thing, an equivalent of what we, thank goodness, mockingly observed from afar in China - the cultural revolution. There was a cultural tyranny of something called spiritual revival. The imposition of this nationalist, conservative, clerical tradition and ideology onto everything. First and foremost, onto culture and education. We all know that very well. All it takes is a summary conclusion. It was an attempt at cultural revolution. In the first half of the 1990s, Tuđman and company constantly talked about spiritual revival. Later on, they quieted down a bit. Talking about the need for a mental transformation of Croatian society. And, as he used to say: the Croatian man. Who should be a nationalist and a Catholic. A clerical Catholic at that, a militant Catholic. From me, that was what this team was about from the very beginning. Once more, there was no trace of democracy in it. This formal democratisation came in handy for them. They legitimately used their chance. Maybe they didn't even know. Judging by some imperial occurrences, I am certain that they did not know, or at least some of them did not know what fell into their laps. They coincided with the kind of political decrepitude and primitivism that was nurtured in Croatia and all of Yugoslavia for decades and centuries past. And, without much ado, they had something what was not even a program, but a message of pure nationalism: We are in favour of a Croatia without Yugoslavia and Communism. Many analysts are right to point this out. They were the only ones to... HDZ (Croatian Democratic Party), you know. There was none of that: "We'll introduce privatisation into the economy, we'll introduce the free enterprise, we'll do this, we'll do that. No, it was: "Well, obviously, it's us, Croats. What's there to talk about?" And this coincided with that. The relative majority voted for the most radical right wing position in the first elections. Not absolute. Nobody had the absolute majority. But the relative majority, about 45 percent of the voters, voted for that. Did anyone in your surroundings, any friends or acquaintances of yours vote for them? Did your behaviour towards them, or their behaviour towards you change? I have to admit that I've never had a declared HDZ supporter in my circle of friends or closer acquaintances. People who voted for HDZ, but were embarrassed to say so are a whole other matter. That was a good sign, because they at least thought it was something objectionable. But, no. I had none of that. Another quite interesting thing, I'll tell you about it in a moment, I'd just like to say this first. Members of the HDZ didn't see it coming, they weren't prepared to become such a dominant party right away. I was a member of the election board in Trešnjevka district. At the time, it was the biggest election precinct in Croatia. I was on the election board in 1990. And I know what kind of complaints the members of the HDZ made. They were preparing for somebody stealing the elections from them. Or at least attempting to do so. They had a paranoid story that transformed every irregularity into a Communist attempt to steal their elections. They were blind to the fact that the Communists couldn't wait to step aside, to get off without getting a beating. That was what they behaved like. They constantly displayed this paranoid rhetoric on the day of the elections, complaints. Even in the runoff elections, it was still echoing. Although by then they knew they were winning. Their mayoral candidate, Boris Buzančić, an actor. That was another disappointing development, that people who, at least in the cultural public, did not give the impression of being primitive or dopey were joining such a party. Buzaničić, whom a TV reporter asked for a comment on the first day of the elections. And he started: "These Communist attempts..." Then somebody tapped his shoulder and told him: "Hang on, we won." Then he changed his tune a little bit. They weren't ready for it. Regarding the question about the reactions of the people in my surroundings, the greatest disappointment was that this pseudodemocratic nationalism had absorbed almost everything that wasn't as plainly primitive as HDZ. Everyone else was a nationalist too, they just didn't want to be one so vulgarly. HDZ was real, pure primitivism, scheming with real ustashe. Not to kid ourselves. Everyone who found that distasteful mostly carried themselves in such a way that made it clear it wasn't the nationalism that they found distatesteful, just this vulgar, primitive manner. But, actually, nationalism had then practically become the air we breathed. There was a single person in the whole Parliament, aside from the people in the Serbian Democratic Party and their 5 representatives, who were there in the beginning, but very soon, much before the war, due to the intolerance of the Croatian political elite, they were practically driven away from the parliament, there was one, single man who stood up to all this. Just one. And that man was professor Nikola Visković, who arrived to the first makeup of the parliament as a half-half. The shared coalition candidate of the Green Action and SDP. He wasn't a 100 per cent SDP representative, only halfway. So I used to joke in some of my texts and say that Croatia is a rarity among world countries, a country that, during the first 2 years of its multiparty democracy, had an opposition with a name and a surname, called Nikola Visković. We had one oppositionist. And this ensemble of "H" parties. HSS and HSLS. In the beginning, even the Croatian People's Party (HNS). And Vujić's Social Democrats of Croatia party. And many other small parties. Actively, and SDP passively, they all de facto supported nationalism. SDP didn't dare stand up against it. In the form of Zdravko Tomac, it even actively and creatively supported it. For a while, Zdravko Tomac was the main ideologist of HDZ. He idologically and politically articulated some things in their stead, things they couldn't even intelectually articulate. I think that the intellectual insufficiency of the right wing in Croatia remains apparent to this day. They have some 2 and a half unacknowledged geniuses in their midst, but they don't have any real experts or intellectual authorities in the field. I'm not referring to technical experts. If you pay well, those can always be found. I'm referring to people who would articulate their political ideas. So they ended up without any political ideas to speak of. But, in the period of the first year, year and a half after the elections, especially when people realised that there really was a war going on, something that depressed and saddened me happened in regard to my closest circle of acquaintances. After the summer of 1991, because, up until then, there were only local squabbles and outbursts. One could convince himself, as I did, that ithere wasn't going to be a real war. And when the reality of the war finally struck, many people I know, people who have in the meantime changed their minds again, not today, 10 years ago or more, deciding to once more take a more liberal and democratic stand, then, these same people said: "This is not the time to criticise the state, the government..." In direct reply to my invitation, a widely known cultural figure in Croatia even gave me the following answer when refusing to take part in an action, saying: "No. This is not the time for civil disobedience, it's the time for civil obedience." Expressis verbis, these were their exact words. The fact that these people, apparently too refined to be HDZ supporters, still didn't find any fault in the same thing that was the very fabric of HDZ, which was nationalism, that was truly atrocious. Did this change the way you behaved towards these people? As far as our arguments and disagreements were concerned, yes. But it was only a matter of character, and not character in its moral sense. It's not that I'm too good for it, perhaps the opposite is rather the case. I may be too weak to sever relationships with people over disagreements. But these disagreements were certainly manifested and, one might say, seen to through countless polemics, arguments, debates that simply had no end. How did you become involved in activism? I always related to it. In the late 1970s, I was associated with these leftist students. Since the beginning of my studies in 1972. Granted, afterwards it broke up. But, as various social problems were very conspicuous later on as well, a part of my commitment that was very precious, edifying and dear to me was the participation in the editorial board of a journal called Kulturni radnik (Cultural Worker) from 1981 until 1986. We were not the heirs of Praxis. It was not journalism, we published scholarly papers, critical analyses of politics, social issues and all these things. And we were constantly pestered by the Party entities that were very intent on trying to keep it under control. After 5 years, it snapped. In 1986 they brought in a new editorial board. But the commitment to the publication strongly motivated me. Of course, man can easily fool himself into thinking that he's doing something of great importance. While the truth of the matter is a bit different. And it wasn't a big deal in that the readership numbered only a couple of thousands, not more. But it was still during the reign of a regime that did not stand for any pluralism of political ideas. In such an environment, every divergent event caused great uproar. Nowadays you would be as happy as a clam if you published an article of 20 typed double-spaced pages, which is, to begin with, too long to count as readable for most people, and made the Party Committee or whoever controlled this country make an announcement on your account, it made you seem like some kind of factor in all of this. Several years after that, in 1987, 1988, I joined a group of people, some younger people who initiated it, which met in the University Club, in what used to be the Street of the Brothers Kaurić, nowadays Hebrang Street 17. It was simply a circle of people analysing the processes, events and changes in the society and political regime of the time, not publicly. Not secret, either. Everyone was free to come. Some of the top intellectuals of the time attended these discussions. Rudi Supek, Žarko Puhovski, Eugen Pusić, Branko Horvat, Ivan Prpić. He is a political scientist. I can't think of everyone right now. Among the younger people, a bit younger than my generation, there was Nenad Zakošek, Mirjana Kasapović. And then, at the end of 1988, after these discussions, some of us came to the conclusion: maybe we should get organised somehow. For, all these analyses and discussions pointed out that things were going downhill. That they could reach a real crisis. Nobody saw the war as such coming. But we did foresee some serious convulsions that would, in the very least, put a stop to the economic recovery for quite a while. And we thought it might be good to get organised. Some backed out. Some didn't want to do it. Some were interested in discussions and analyses, but not in any commitment of another sort. For example, professor Pusić, an academic, Eugen, told me: "Ok. I wish you luck. But I'm not really cut out for it." Some were. We formed an Association for Yugoslav Democratic Initiative. The idea first came to our minds in a room of about this size, in the University Club. And then we discovered that the interest was quite high all across Yugoslavia. Not only Praxis dissidents showed an interest in it, but many liberally thinking people who were not Marxists. And it turned out to be surprisingly numerous and wide. But, when we launched it, it never occurred to us it could become a political movement or, God forbid, a party. Just an organisation trying to formulate and advocate a peaceful and democratic way of leaving this regime that was coming apart at the seams and suffocating everything. And we were looking into it ourselves, trying to find out what this might entail. Sometimes we had polemics and discussions on, for example, what position to take up towards the repression and strike of the miners in Kosovo. On the one hand, everybody was against repression. But, on the other hand, the miners were not on strike because they were horridly exploited and did hard work in very bad conditions. Both health and economic conditions. They were on strike prepared to die for the republic of Kosovo. Their motives were also completely nationalistic. So, at first glance, the fledgling sensationalist media, starting to emerge at the time, had it easy. Either you supported the repression and the Serbian domination against Kosovo. Or you backed them, Kosovo and all that. Like the manifestations of support they organised in Slovenia. If you wanted to seriously examine and solve problems, then you had to see the big picture. So there were polemics and divergences among us on this matter. But we were a group for political discussion, fully accepting of an exchange of views. What we, of course, failed to give was a strong and convincing impression on the public, drawing some attention and perhaps even some support for the idea that the first steps to be taken were a few quick and specific amendments to the Constitution that would allow democratic elections of the representatives in the Federal Assembly. In order to place the further processes under the control of a democratically legitimate body. That was our mainstay. And, of course, we fared badly. It was also where Ante Marković failed completely, despite his immense potential for reforms. And his popularity owing to this economic success. Very fast and sudden. Managing to curb a horrible hyperinflation. That was the second wave. The first hyperinflation took place in 1983, 1984. The second wave arrived in the late 1980s. He proved to be economically very efficient. And completely politically misguided. Every day, he was aware that, being the prime minister, there wasn't a single law that he could propose to the Federal Assembly. Because, in order to make a proposal, he had to have the consensus of all the representatives of the republics and provinces sitting in the government. That was how the government was composed. So, the prime minister wasn't the one who built the governement, people from the federal units were sent to him. And then there was the matter of agreeing on republican delegacies and all that. Although the Federal Assembly had one council, the Chamber of Republics and Provinces, and another council, the Federal Chamber, supposed to be universal, but it was undemocratic. We had two republican councils. They couldn't even agree on what kind of consensus he was supposed to have. He wasn't elected by the majority. So he ruled only through temporary measures. And he was still blind to the importance, the crucial importance of the introduction of a democratic election principle in one of the Federal Assembly councils, based on the principle 1 man - 1 vote, and making majority decisions. While the other council, by definition in charge of and authorised to guard the interests of the republics and provinces, would then have the option of choosing not to pass some laws and something like that. No, he didn't grasp the idea at all, even though we spoke to him directly, he didn't grasp the option of joining the support for democratic elections. Instead, he formed his own party, the Union of Reform Forces figuring that he would, thanks to his popularity, win in all the republics and make it through in this way. Firstly, he was too late because the elections in Slovenia and Croatia had already passed. Secondly, it soon became apparent that the nationalist options were holding sway in the other republics as well, of course. Perhaps a federal election, in which no ethnic group, no ethnically defined nation would hold the majority, perhaps there he could have found some room for maneuver. But, as the Russians would say, ne udalos. This possibility never even presented itself, much less came true. When it became apparent that things weren't working out, as soon as the election results from the republics came in, it became evident that no political ground was left for the kind of engagement that the Association for Yugoslav Democratic Initiative had been aiming for. Some tried to transform this assembly into parties. So that several parties emerged in Serbia, Croatia and I don't know where else. But it was all flimsy and marginal. As for me, personally, at some point someone invited me, and I somehow ended up in this group of people, the first one to react to JNA's attack on Slovenia. The same people who started forming the Antiwar Campaign in early July. I was always interested in political matters more than I was in the entirely pacifist, ecological and similar topics. Moreover, I still believe that the mobilisation of the so called civil society, preceding the fall of the Communist regime in the late 1980s, in Slovenia most of all, but catching on in other places, was an evasion of a direct confrontation with political problems. Later analyses found the same phenomena in other countries. For example, in the late 1980s, the ecological movement in Hungary picked up as well. It was a regime-unbacked way for people to assemble, but without directly clinching with the regime, without facing some politically contentious issues you had in common, although your points of view were opposed. Something passing by the problems. Alternative culture, environmental protection and pacifism as universal human values. I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about it. There was a meeting in Kumrovec at which the Antiwar Campaign was really created and founded, although they already had something going on in Zagreb before that, in the Green Action, which I didn't take part in, anyway, I spent that meeting outside, playing with the children. Because a couple of us had brought our kids. While most of the others were in session, agreeing on a text to go public with. I took the Antiwar Campaign seriously only after the next few months, when it became manifest that a problem was opening up, a problem that somebody could have analytically foretold. But neither myself or the people arround me did. And the problem was the following: in a warring country, a country that was under attack, a background war against segments of the population was at work. And I know we had some discussions about it in the Antiwar Campaign. Even in written form. Because an internal bulletin had started off, a fanzine that later became Arkzin. I formulated it in a text: A pacifist engagement in a country under attack, with its legitimate right to defend itself, seems pointless. But it is not pointless because we have... Granted, we couldn't affect this war. When you're under aggression, you can choose between capitulating and fighting. In this sense, the war does not begin with the attacker, but with the attacked. If they don't defend themselves, there is no war, as Czechoslovakia proved in 1968. There was no war there. There was no war in 1938 either, when Germany ran over them. Supposedly not a single German soldier was harmed in all of that. But here you could choose not to fight. In all that mess, I filed a conscientious objection so that, whatever else happened, I wouldn't kill anybody. I didn't want anyone to impose that on me, giving me a gun and forcing me to shoot somebody. Not in order to to keep myself safe, but not to be forced to shoot at others. Could you tell us about your conscientious objection in more detail? It was a mere formal act. Nothing worth mentioning. Did you get in any trouble...? - No. That's the hypocrisy of all these situations. Anyone even remotely known, I'm no celebrity, but I took part in some things and my name was somehow known to them, anyone even remotely known was protected. Later, the president of that commission, a doctor who was a member of HSLS, not HDZ, told me: "Well, you had really put it nicely." Later on, when our paths crossed at some conference. As soon as they knew you, as soon as they knew that you knew some journalists, especially if you knew someone from the foreign press, it was another thing altogether. Did you perhaps hear from some other conscientious objectors whose experiences differed from yours? Yes. I remember one man, I had known him long before all of that. We weren't close, but we were acquaintances. Ratko Bečinović from Karlovac. They sent him a draft notice, although he had already filed a request for civil service as a conscientious objector. But the legislature was very poorly regulated then. Things were made in such a way that it was possible for them to acknowledge this conscientious objection only as a formality, since it was, incidentally, in the Constitution. By the end of 1990. But it actually entailed a whole mass of obstacles and restrictions. So we filed a request to the constitutional court. And, to our utter bewilderment, the motion for the evaluation of constitutionality was partly adopted. Some parts of the law were abolished in line with our motion. And returned to the parliament for discussion several years later. But that was the first, it was unprecedented at the time. That was the first time that an association started anything like that, not to mention getting the attention of the constitutional court. And it was unheard of for the court to make a ruling partly in line with our motion. But, like I said, until then, and that was in 1993... And it took some time for the Parliament to change it as well. But, yes, the people who contacted us had terrible problems, because, unlike myself and some others here, they were forced into the army regardless of their conscientious objection. They refused to go because the procedure of deciding on their objection was in motion. Then they would get beaten up, put in prison, and all kinds of things. I tried. I went to Karlovac, tried to reach him, tried to reach anyone who was in charge there, someone who decided how this man was being treated. I didn't manage to reach anybody, but it was important to create an atmosphere that somebody was indeed observing and supervising it. As far as the constitution of the state apparatus and the whole ruling structure was concerned, it was also in a very chaotic state, which sometimes gave you the opportunity to do more than in a state of stability. But, in most cases, it was deadly. Because there were no guarantees, no laws or regulations were followed. All kinds of things happened. Getting back to the Antiwar Campaign and its engagement, several months after the Antiwar Campaign was formed, it occurred to me that, aside from this feeble and futile pacifism as a principle, which didn't even enable you to publicly speak up, because this was what you could say: "Well, don't wage war even though the country has been attacked, let things run their course", I realised that aside from that there was a whole other area of engagement. Or, to use the ugly word, struggle. And that was the struggle against the militarisation of society from within. And against the very violent discrimination and persecution of Serbs. In fact, for a while all post-Yugoslav minorities, other than Slovenians, were vitims. Montenegrians, Macedonians and Bosniacs were losing their jobs. In the eyes of the members of the HDZ, who all of a sudden ruled everything, who could do whatever popped into their heads, these were all suspect elements. Especially when things took off and they joined the aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina, when they started conquering and potentially splitting off parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, then the Bosniacs really became the topic of conversation. Very many things like these happened. Other than losing their jobs, how else were those who were found objectionable dealt with? The violent evictions from the apartments made the strongest imprint on my mind. They were orchestrated on very suspect legal grounds. I did some research on it at the time and later on. I should finish a study on it soon. They used an executive order from July 1991, in which the governement banned all property status changes. Which could have been made by any of these federal bodies, organs or institutions. Which, of course, included the JNA. And it included the apartments that the JNA had assigned to people. Which was objectionable for two reasons. On the one hand, in the Brijuni Declaration in early July, Croatia pledged to a suspension of all activities related to the secession. And this executive order was exactly this kind of activity. The trouble was that the Brijuni Declaration was just an expression of political will, which could be let down. It wasn't a legally binding document. At some point, in a later case, the constitutional court very coarsely denied any legal relevance of the Brijuni Declaration. And the other objectionable point was thet these tenants already had the right of tenure in the JNA. And that the JNA, in allowing for these apartments to be bought off, did the very same thing as the Croatian state. So, this wasn't a seizure of Croatian property. The housing facilities were JNA's property. And Croatia as the Republic of Croatia had nothing to do with it. Well, not to go into further details. But, based on very suspect legal grounds, people were thrown out using force, either bullying and threats or physical force... From about 30 000 apartments altogether. Not people, apartments. 30 000 families. Meaning, maybe about a hundred thousand people. At the very least. And we in the Antiwar Campaign were a tiny drop in the ocean trying to, in some cases, stop it, alleviate it, postpone it. If nothing else, point out that there was something controversial about it. There are people here who know more than I do, who dealt with it more directly. I was among those taking part in a kind of logistics, occasionally going to some evictions, to be among those who were physically, nonviolently resisting, meaning, we wouldn't move until they carried us outside, notifying the foreign observers, the so called ice-cream marshals, the observers from the European Community Monitor Mission. I don't know whether we managed to help cancel it in more than a couple of cases. To keep people in their apartments. Some of the evictions were postponed, etc. But if it wasn't for us here, if it wasn't for Tonči Majić and the Dalmatian Committee for Human Rights in Split, if it wasn't for the Centre for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights in Osijek, and some other groups, one that went on to become the Civil Committee in Karlovac, if it wasn't for these various groups and organisations things would have certainly gone further and higher. Because it became a public scandal. It became the issue at stake between Croatia and the representatives of the European Union and the representatives of particular countries who were sent here. Did you try to raise this story to an international level? As much as we could. It wasn't very formalised. We didn't know what structures and bodies existed. It was a whole other world. Yugoslavia wasn't a member state of the Council of Europe, it wasn't a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights. Neither was Croatia in the early 1990s. Raising things to an international level didn't have that form of submitting a shadow report, or using stabilised, well-known procedures and channels of communication. We were winging it, flying by the seat of our pants, doing anything, contacting anyone we could. The grass roots activism in the countries of Western Europe was of great help, people with whom we established contact through variuos chance ways. Fortunately, since the early days, the spring of 1992, we had e-mail communication. That was something completely new. And it offered a much greater capacity of communication and dissemination to marginal characters such as us, a level of communication beyond our wildest imagination. A lot of support came in from all around. On Tadeusz Mazowiecki's visit in the spring of 1993, as the then special emissary of human rights for the UN, the evictions were discussed as well. And that couldn't have been achieved in any other way. The European Community Monitor Mission also registered and recorded all these cases. It may have helped in cutting it short or preventing it from coming into full swing. Of course it wasn't in our power to stop it. But at least it had been turned into a public, controversial issue. This sounds very cynical. Every one of the people who suffered through that evil... Imagine that suddenly anyone can throw you out from a place in which you have been living like in your own home. It's terrible. The Croatian public is only now becoming aware of it, seeing scenes such as the most recent one in Zadar, where a family's home had been taken away with purely economic-fiscal reasons. And the terror is obvious. It was a mass occurrence. And we at least contributed to making it uncomfortable. Although every survivor, every victim of this would find it cynical. Because we didn't help them in any way. Except for a small show of solidarity from some people who didn't have the power to change anything. And maybe getting a deferral, maybe being subjected to less violence. It was like the difference between pitch darkness and a small candle or a lighted match that showed you something other than the darkness still existed. It was the same with many things. The Antiwar Campaign didn't get very involved in regard to people losing their jobs. But we weren't the only ones. Some things were getting published a lot in Feral. Some other groups had formed by that time. By the end of 1992 the groundwork was laid. And the Civic Committee for Human Rights was founded. And the Croatian Helsinki Committee (HHO) soon followed. A group for the direct protection of human rights was forming within the Antiwar Campaign, later on it was independently registered as the Centre for Direct Protection of Human Rights. The nice thing about this Antiwar Campaign was that it was the first one to have logistics. That was indicative. Many other organisations stemmed from that one. Not the Civic Committee or the Helsinki Committee I mentioned, they formed separately. Many others formed separately as well. But the vey idea of organisation from below getting recognition from someone on the outside, getting some support. It had nothing to do with the kind of money handed out by donor organisations and foundations later on. Small support, a few thousand marks from activists in Germany, the Netherlands, France. That you could have an office, a telefax, that you could send something, a computer and, later, an e-mail server. It was very important to make that first step from which everything could take off. That's why it was fertile ground for many other budding groups. Aside from the Antiwar Campaign, you were active in the Croatian Helsinki Committee (HHO), you were the executive director of HHO. - That was much later. And in the Open Society Institute. As far as my career is concerned, at the time of these events that we are discussing, meaning, at the beginning of the war, these early years, the first half of the 1990s, I worked in publishing. I worked for the publishing company 'Naprijed'. That was a job with which I had a lot of spare time. I was able to work on the manuscripts that needed to be prepared for books, for publishing