Seminar 20.11 - Serbia, stuck in the past or proving EU worthy of a peace prize?
Tuesday 20.11 Sonja Biserko, founder and President of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, presented her book
"Yugoslavia’s Implosion" at The Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s seminar "Serbia - stuck in the past or proving EU worthy of
a peace prize?"
The seminar also featured Neil Campbell, head of EU policy development at the Open Society European Policy Institute in Brussels, and Aage Borchgrevink, Norwegian author and senior advisor at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. Sonja Biserko thanked the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the publisher of the book, for being one of most important supporters of the HCHRS for two decades.
In her presentation, Biserko spoke about the legacy of Serbian nationalism, particularly within Serbia itself where former key allies of Slobodan Milosevic are now president and prime minister:
-Nationalism is often discussed in the terms of competing nationalisms, when different nationalisms collide, but what about the internal effects of placing the collective above the individual, delaying the implementation of human rights, democracy and decentralization, she asked. – Serbian nationalism has always given priority to the size of territory over the content of state policy, preventing modernization.
For Biserko, the book has been a long process which started when she was at the United States Institute Of Peace in Washington. – I wanted to systematize the reasons for what happened in Yugoslavia and caused its downfall, and to make my findings public.
Serbia has up to now been unwilling to face its own crimes and responsibilities, she said, as well as to face the new situation and the reality of new states and borders. – Serbian elites gave up Kosovo in the 1980s, she said, but still want the northern part as well as a partition of Bosnia, which prevents the consolidation of that state.
According to Biserko, who spoke of the current Serbian elites as “immature”, the “Milosevic narrative”, according to which Serbs were fighting a defensive war and where all parties in the former Yugoslavia were equally to blame for the wars is still the official story in today’s Serbia. Instead of blaming others, she said, it is time for Serbs to realize that they are in this situation, and ask themselves why.
Serbian nationalism and antimodernity
Aage Borchgrevink spoke of Serbian nationalism as a focal point for rebels against modernity everywhere and how it seems to be compatible with many other forms of right wing radicalism and extremism. As an example, Borchgrevink pointed to Anders Behring Breivik, who made several references to Serbia’s “struggle” in his manifesto. He also pointed to the controversy over the Norwegian documentary film Srebrenica – A town betrayed, which in the name of “critical journalism” described the Srebrenica massacre in terms usually used by Serbian nationalists. – If Serbian nationalism seems to be almost “immortal”, he asked, how can we get rid of it?
The role of the European Union
Neil Campbell commented on the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union, which he believed to be a good decision if viewed in a larger picture where there is still enthusiasm for EU membership, allowing the EU to play a positive role in the transformation of society. In relation to this, he also spoke of the need for Brussels to maintain links with civil society organizations in the region: – If not, the EU will be failing in its own mandate.
Sonja Biserko spoke of the potential role of the EU in reforming Serbian society: - I believe we should get a date soon, it will oblige the government and prevent demobilization of the expectations for the EU to be a solution for Serbia. The EU must also be more involved in the western Balkans, in the changing of values and the cultural matrix. Unfortunately, young people who have grown up with the current model are now more “autistic” than older generations.
In order to do so and to challenge the nationalist narrative, she pointed to the need to strengthen education programs like the ones currently sponsored by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. Unfortunately, she said, at the moment the EU and the Council of Europe have no such programs.
For more information about the book and for a downloadable PDF version click here