The following is an edited transcript of a chat about the events in Yugoslavia conducted on Thursday, April 8, 1999 with cultural anthropologist Branimir Anzulovic, author of "Heavenly Serbia: From Myth to Genocide."
Chat Participant: Is it possible to explain in simple terms how this conflict in the Kosovo area came about?
Branimir Anzulovic: It's very difficult to explain it briefly because there is a long history behind it, and a lot of myths and historical falsification. An important point is the Battle of Kosovo of 1389, which is commonly regarded as the moment of disappearance of the medieval Serbian state. The memory of the event is extraordinarily vivid among the Serbs, and over the centuries they cherished the idea of revenge for that old defeat. Present events are very much related with that.
Chat Participant: How long have the Serbs lived in the Kosovo area and how long have the Albanians lived in the Kosovo area?
Branimir Anzulovic: This is an issue that has been much discussed. Serbs claim that Albanians came to Kosovo relatively late, but all historical indications point out that Albanians are descendants of old Illyrians, who were a power in the Balkans before the Roman Empire subdued them. When Serbs, and other Slavs, settled there in the seventh century, the old inhabitants withdrew to the mountains, and became shepherds. Kosovo is not a cradle of Serbian medieval state, as is often alleged, but it was a very important cultural, political and religious area. The town of Pec in Kosovo was the seat of the Patriarchate of Pec, the headquarters of the Serbian Orthodox Church. With the arrival of Turks, in the fifteenth century, a northward movement of Serbs began. In more recent history, after the Ottoman Turkish occupation was over, the northward migration continued, mostly for economic reasons.
Chat Participant: The Serbian public doesn't seem concerned with the plight of the Albanians. Does the majority seem to support Milosevic's ethnic cleansing?
Branimir Anzulovic: Yes, the majority does support him, especially after the bombing began. There are two explanations for that strong support. One is Milosevic's virtual monopoly over the media, and the second is the Serbs' belief in the Kosovo myth, which they are fed since early childhood.
Chat Participant: What was your motive to write a book on Serbia but not on Croatia -- and what is the Kosovo myth?
Branimir Anzulovic: Let me start with the Kosovo myth. Essentially it says that Serbs lost the battle because they opted for the heavenly, rather than earthly kingdom. Many Serbs are convinced that throughout their history they've been superior to their enemies, and that they suffered for being better. They think so today, labeling NATO as the Satan who wants to destroy peaceful Serbia. As to why I wrote a book about Serbia and not Croatia, the reason is that around 1990 I realized that Serbian elites (who are responsible for the wars) were counting on the Yugoslav people's army to achieve their dominance in a centralized Yugoslavia, and that people in the West had a very distorted idea about the situation in the former Yugoslavia, because Serbs had a monopoly on propaganda in Yugoslavia through most of the 20th century. Thus, my book is essentially a myth-busting book, which could be of enormous help to Serbs if they chose to read it and realize that the concealment of reality through myths is the basic cause of their and their neighbors' calamity.
Chat Participant: What is your thought about the missing refugees? Could they have been part of an organized effort by Serbs to commit genocide?
Branimir Anzulovic: I know no more about it than you or most anybody at the moment. In relation to a previous question, I want to add the impact of Serbian literature on the Serbs' willingness to tolerate genocide. In the first place, there is the dramatic poem, 'The Mountain Wreath,' published in mid-nineteenth century, which glorifies massacres of Muslims. Then in the 1980's, after the death of Tito, when the breakdown of the communist order was widely anticipated, a number of best-selling novels and plays appeared that depicted Serbians suffering through history with enormous exaggerations of their victims and neglect to mention victims of Serbian crimes. A particular feature of some of these works is 'The Cult of the Knife,' as an instrument for redressing past wrongs.
Chat Participant: It seems to me that the Western nations of NATO do not understand the 14th century thinking of the Serbs. The NATO nations will not agree to the Serbian view of the world, and the Serbs will not accept the Western view. How are they to achieve a mutual understanding that both sides can accept?
Branimir Anzulovic: 20th century thinking of the Serbs is what matters. It is influenced not only by the 14th century events, but by many other events, too. In the last two centuries, Serbs became a pet nation of some Western intellectuals and nations. Romanticist linguists from Central Europe propagated the idea that whoever speaks Serb-Croatian is a Serb. In the twentieth century, some powers wanted to create a Greater Serbia. Russia did it not out of Orthodox solidarity but out of the desire to have access to Mediterranean ports, while France and Britain saw in a Greater Serbia a bulwark against Austrian and German influence. The three prevailed in giving Kosovo to Serbia in 1913. If it had been made a part of Albania, as Austria and Italy insisted, we would have no Kosovo problem today.
Chat Participant: What is your opinion about the current conflict?
Branimir Anzulovic: My opinion does not differ from the opinion of every decent person in the world: It is a genocidal mania that should be stopped as soon as possible. What I'm trying to contribute here is the understanding of why a nation would undertake this. Under some different circumstances, Serbs could have developed into a modern, pluralist nation. Their presumed friends did the greatest harm to them by feeding the expansionist passions that exist in every nation. Britain in Ireland and France in Algeria showed how very civilized nations can commit enormous atrocities because of territorial appetites.
Chat Participant: Why has Serbia not learned from the past horrors of Nazi Germany? Serbia helped the Allies gain a foothold in the Balkans during WWII. They saw first hand from the camps of Croatia what atrocities really are. Have they forgotten?
Branimir Anzulovic: Serbs, and many Croats, have not learned the proper lesson from World War II, because they did not know what happened. We're coming back to the distortion of reality through myths. Anti-Nazi resistance in Yugoslavia during WWII, under the leadership of a Croat, Tito, was a multinational enterprise. The falsification of the numbers of victims of various Yugoslav nationalities is an important source of the rise of hatred, instead of reconciliation in the post-war period.
Chat Participant: What about the role of the Turks and their atrocities in medieval Asia and Europe? Why put all the blame on the shoulders of the Serbs?
Branimir Anzulovic: The Turks' atrocities were no worse than atrocities of other nations at the time. In fact, according to a Serb Janissary, who wrote a book very popular in the 16th and 17th century, 'Memoirs of Janissary,' written for the Polish king, there was more justice under the Turks at his time than in Serbia preceding the Turkish conquest. Ottoman Turks, like the Habsburgs, were good empire builders, and knew that prolonged rule cannot be achieved through terror. It was only in the last centuries of the Ottoman Empire, when economy deteriorated and with it the Turks' ability to maintain order, that Turkish rule became oppressive.
Chat Participant: Is it reasonable to use history to justify today's atrocities?
Branimir Anzulovic: No, it is never reasonable. Revenge only perpetuates violence, even when grievances are legitimate.
Chat Participant: How did the mythology grow so intense that it overshadows humanity?
Branimir Anzulovic: It can happen to every nation. Look at what Mr. Goebbels achieved in Germany with his use of myths.
Chat Participant: Do you feel as though NATO has acted responsibly by acting with such force, or do you feel as though the allied countries should have garnered more support from the surrounding countries and tried to use more diplomacy?
Branimir Anzulovic: Surrounding countries have little power over the events, and Greece has generally sided with Serbs. NATO action is justified in my opinion, but it has not helped the Kosovo Albanians. The lack of unity among NATO powers is an important reason why the course of action has not been more successful.
Chat Participant: Where are you from?
Branimir Anzulovic: I'm of Croatian origin, but my motive has been to combat myths as a favor to anybody who has suffered in the breakdown of former Yugoslavia. If you read my book, you'll see that it is non-biased and well documented.
Chat Participant: Does the mass media help to keep myths alive?
Branimir Anzulovic: Definitely. When the conflicts started in the early 1990's many of the world media were true believers in "Heavenly Serbia," that is, a Serbia dedicated to the cause of liberty, and ignored the shady sides of Serbian history.
Chat Participant: Do you think the Serbs are more interested in where they have been then where they are headed?
Branimir Anzulovic: Many Serbs are reasonable people who did not care about Kosovo but were primarily concerned with their lives. Some of them actively tried to establish civil society. Unfortunately, as is usually the case in times of chaos, negative elements of society come to the surface.
Chat Participant: In light of everything that has happened, can Serbs and Albanians ever live in Kosovo together? It seems as though coexistence is impossible.
Branimir Anzulovic: It is not impossible, but extremely difficult to achieve. I doubt that the international community has enough unity and will to bring order to Kosovo.
Chat Participant: Whom do you blame for the conflict in Kosovo today?
Branimir Anzulovic: I insist in my book that the responsibility for the conflict is very widespread, and that Serbs themselves are not only victimizers but also victims of many wrong decisions by great powers in the past and at present.
Chat Participant: Thanks Bramimir for joining us today.
Branimir Anzulovic: Thank you.
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