The iInterview between Doctor of Historical Sciences, Head of the Center for the Study of the Modern Balkan Crisis, Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Elena Guskova and Nemana Vukcevic, Member of the Political Council and Chairman of the Council of Eurasia of the People’s Freedom Movement (Serbia).
Nemana Vukcevic: Often, when considering the collapse of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the religious factor is interpreted as very significant, since Orthodox Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church and Islam very quickly moved from coexistence to a clash of ethnic groups professing these religions. For this reason, can we say today that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a small Yugoslavia and predict a similar outcome for it?
Elena Guskova: I should tell you that in 1992, when the events began in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the religious factor did not play such a significant role as it did in 1995. A major role was played by the national factor and, above all, the relationship between Muslims and Serbs. Saying “Muslims”, we mean an ethnic group, a designation of nationality: Josip Broz Tito called the Serbs and Croats who converted to Islam in this way. Once in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia they explained themselves and wrote like this: nationality is Muslim, religion is atheist.
I must say that religion did not play an important role among Muslims in 1991 and 1992. Only when the military began to arrive from foreign Muslim countries during the war, the role of religion became significant, and for the first time in the trenches, one could hear prayer – five times a day, as Islam prescribed.
Regarding the current moment, I believe that after the Dayton Agreement, Serbs play the most important role in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is the Serbs and the Serbian Republic that save Bosnia and Herzegovina and provide it with a peaceful future. The Croats are not strong enough in this territory, Muslims could not become a decisive factor in the future state, offered by the West as a single Muslim power, since they failed to overcome various problems at all levels, and above all, hatred of other nationalities.
I am deeply convinced that the Serbian Republic is the most important factor for all Serbs in the Balkans as a whole. From this point of view, it is even more important than Serbia itself. Milorad Dodik is trying to preserve the Serbian cultural space not only inside Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also outside of state borders. On all holidays, he invites Serbs from Serbia, Macedonia, Romania, Hungary, Albania, Bulgaria … There is a program for uniting all Serbian Slavic peoples in the Balkans, and Milorad Dodik offered it to Alexander Vučić. Of course, we are not talking about a geographic association, but rather a cultural unification: so that not a single Serb in the Balkans is forgotten, despite the fact that he lives separately, in other countries.
Nemana Vukcevic: Taking into account the indelible role of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the almost thousand-year history of the statehood of Serbia, how do you see today the visit and appeal of the President of the Republic to the Serbian Orthodox Church Synod? If this visit of a historical nature portends a quick solution to the Kosovo issue, does Serbia’s post-Kosovo policy even exist?
Elena Guskova: From the historical point of view, religion did not play a big role in socialist Yugoslavia, especially the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Catholic Church had certain advantages and privileges in Croatia and Slovenia, while the Orthodox Church was under great pressure from the state from the time of the SFRY. However, in 1991, after the collapse of Yugoslavia, the Serbian Orthodox Church began to gradually rehabilitate and instead of the Communist Party became the factor that rallied the Serbian people. You can see here the very important role of the church, and it positioned itself as an organization that does not participate in the creation of state policy: this was completely clear even in the time of Patriarch Paul.
Today, only the church can unite all Orthodox Slavs. Therefore, the role, or more precisely, the position of the church today, when the Kosovo issue is being resolved, is very important. Alexander Vučić cannot solve the Kosovo issue in favor of the Albanians without the support of the church, which is why he is forced to look for it on issues of the policy he is pursuing. This situation is very difficult. He must quickly solve the Kosovo issue, as the European Union is pressing on him, but he cannot do it in the way that is demanded of him, because the Serbian people will not understand him. This position is extremely difficult, since he risks entering history as a traitor to the interests of the Serbian people in favor of the Albanians if he leaves the Serbian people in Kosovo unprotected.
Nemana Vukcevic: How do you see current political protests in Serbia?
Elena Guskova: I would like to draw your attention to the fact that from the very beginning of the protests the issue of Kosovo was not raised at rallies. But (in protests) you will see flags of the European Union and slogans against Alexander Vučić. In my deep conviction, protests are a form of enormous pressure on Alexander Vučić to resolve the Kosovo issue in accordance with the scenario of the European Union. In fact, the protests are an everyday warning to Alexander Vučić that he can be overthrown at any time if he does not find a solution to the Kosovo issue satisfying the European Union.
Interview by Nemanja Vukchevich,
Member of the Political Council and Chairman of the Council of Eurasia of the People’s Freedom Movement, Republic of Serbia