Democracy Is Not Enough

Posted March 22, 2013

Categories: Blog, Eastern Europe, Featured, Uncategorized

It has not been easy for the countries of East-Central Europe to establish stable, functioning democracies. Strong-arm leaders – like Victor Orban in Hungary or, until recently, Vaclav Klaus in the Czech Republic – have persistent appeal. Corruption has claimed any number of political victims, from Adrian Nastase in Romania to Janez Jansa in Slovenia. And the continuing economic crisis has undermined even otherwise popular governments, as Boyko Borisov recently discovered in Bulgaria when his government was forced to resign after days of massive protests over energy prices and deteriorating living standards.

Croatia has suffered from all three of these jolts to the political system.  It was led by a former Communist-era general with an authoritarian bent, Franjo Tudjman, until his death in 1999. Former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, along with other members of his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party went on trial last April on charges of stealing millions of dollars from state-owned enterprises, which ended with a 10-year jail sentence for Sanader.

And after the financial crisis hit, the Croatian economy entered one of the worst slumps in its short history.  In 2012, the economy contracted by 2 percent after three years of earlier stagnation and contraction. The unemployment rate is hovering near 22 percent. The center-left Kukuriku ruling coalition of four parties, led by the Social Democratic Party, is struggling to keep Croatia above water even as it imposes austerity measures to meet the demands of the EU and the IMF.

Political analyst, philosopher, and human rights activist Zarko Puhovski has been a consistent critic of nationalism, authoritarianism, and economic folly in Croatia. He’s relieved that the country has weathered the worst of it, but he remains particularly concerned about the failure of the political system to address social problems.

“We have something quite like a functioning democracy,” he told me in an interview in Zagreb in October. “But after 2007-8, we had to learn the hard way that this is not enough. We have to take care of society, not just community. Democracy cannot support the exploitation of people, massive fraud, a system in which people cannot survive. They have the right to vote. They don’t vote for fascist or crypto-fascists any more. But they have nothing to eat. Almost eight percent of the whole population is unemployed. This is the tragedy. This democracy we were fighting so much for, when we have more or less achieved it, many people think of it as just bourgeois democracy that doesn’t solve social problems. It’s criminally disinterested in social problems.”

He doesn’t see much on the political horizon in Croatia that will address these social problems. The opposition Labor Party remains small; the “direct democracy” movement didn’t translate its message into a concrete program. Worse perhaps have been the democratic deficits that persist on the regional and global level. The EU, he confessed, is looking more and more like the former Yugoslavia in terms of its governance structure while economically it has begun to favor banks over people. At the international level, only Americans can vote for the U.S. president, even though the White House ends up having a profound effect on the lives of people all around the world. Only global politics, for instance a global parliament, can rectify this imbalance.

Puhovski has revised his thinking over the years: on Yugoslavia, on nationalism, on liberal politics. This is my third interview with him over the last 23 years. I’ve included the previous two from 1990 and 2008 to show the evolution in his thinking.


The Interview


Do you remember where you were when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?


I was in Zagreb coming back from my lecture, and a friend of mine from Berlin telephoned to tell me. She was absolutely thrilled. I said, “It’s about time, but we’ll see what the costs will be.” Years after that, she told me that she was shocked because my response was far from enthusiastic. But I’m very proud of this reaction. I’ve always been discussing these costs, talking about who is in the rubble of the Berlin Wall, literally and symbolically.

Eight years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was in Poland, because my family on my father’s side is Polish and I could speak some Polish. I came back and published an article in December 1981. After this socialist-communist system, I wrote, we might see something worse. At the time, I was shocked to see young people in Gdansk and Warsaw discussing the percentage of Jewish blood in Politburo members and Jews controlling the Politburo. You could see the same thing in Croatia, people talking about the number of Serbs in the Politburo controlling things.

In late 1988, I spoke to Franjo Tudjman. I knew him privately. His son was in high school with me for four years. I slept over his house several times. So, in late 1988, at that time we organized the first Yugoslav alternative organization. Tudjman was about to start the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). I was talking to him and his son Miro and two other guys, and I thought to myself that Tudjman’s talking about the future of Croatia but he’s an old guy. And then he said, “Within a year, I will be president.” I thought he was a lunatic. But I was the lunatic! By spring 1989, Tudjman had really become someone who would play an important role. Since I knew him as a totalitarian person, not as a nationalist, I thought that this new period would not be better.

You know the old Jewish formulation: what comes after this moment can only be worse than this moment. I had this feeling already in spring 1989 that nationalism was flourishing. I spent my whole activist life since the 1960s acting against the ethno-nationalist point of view. At the same time, from my own intellectual, personal, and political point of view, I saw that the liberal position we used against the old system, which was the only position we had at that time, might become a source of trouble.

So, basically I was happy about the fall of the Berlin Wall. But I had some worries about the future without knowing really what would happen.


What was the moment in the 1960s that you began to act against ethno-nationalism?


Basically it started in 1966 when I first went to Germany as a student, and I found out what a lousy position a small nation like Croatia had even within a group of leftist internationalists. I was sitting with people like Rudi Dutschke, and they were all making jokes about Yugoslavia.

At the same time, I knew what was going on inside Yugoslavia. At that time, Yugoslavia didn’t have diplomatic relations with West Germany, so the Swedish embassy was acting on behalf of Yugoslavia. Every other Saturday, their office was open for Yugoslav citizens. The guest workers were perplexed because all the documents they had to sign coming from Belgrade were printed in Cyrillic script. I sometimes spent hours sometimes translating for them. They’d offer me 10 German marks, which was a lot of money back then and which I refused.

But the point is that the Yugoslav state was acting on behalf of one group while the attitude of the other group was suddenly stuck in 1941. The Croats were saying that Belgrade had been doing this since 1945, since 1928! No one mentioned the simple fact that the state was doing something wrong through the state apparatus. Instead, they talked about a conspiracy against the Croats going back to 1928 at least. This put me in a very unpleasant position: to argue against this position without justifying this stupid practice of the Yugoslav ministry. That’s when I understood how deep this all was going and how important it was for me to try to deny the logic behind this ethno-nationalist point of view.


Were you here in Zagreb during the Croatian Spring?


I was one of the relatively few activists against the majority during the Croatian Spring. In the end there were only two of us, me and a friend of mine named Dushko. We went from one faculty to another, having conversations, discussions, quarrels, debates against these nationalists. I was again shocked to find out how deeply primitive the students were who had this orientation, not to mention the others. They called themselves a mass movement. Translating Wilhelm Reich into Croatian at the time, I tried to point out the dangers of mass society and mass movements. I was understood simply as a traitor. The other unpleasant side was that Belgrade journalists used me as an example of a “decent, non-nationalist Croat” acting against Croat nationalists.


This lasted several years.


From 1971 to 72.


The Croatian Spring covered a lot of issues: language, economy, history…


The only good thing was that the mass movement wasn’t too deeply involved in history. Of course, there are always historical elements. Croatia had many guest workers and tourists and an income from foreign currency. “How come we in Zagreb don’t have the possibility to control this money, and it all has to go to Belgrade?” people were asking at the time. As is usually the case, there were some very rational points in these statements.

But no one thought about the problem that we would only experience later, in the 1990s when Croatia became a state – what Belgrade was to Zagreb became what Zagreb was to Split or Rijeka. So, again, it was one center against another center: our center against their center. People were discussing Croatian history, but the Ustasha was not an issue at the time. History was not as much of an issue as it would become in 1991.


Ultimately the leaders of the Croatian Spring were put in jail and or went into exile.


Hundreds were put into jail. Thousands lost their jobs or their functions. The tragedy of the situation could be summarized very simply: the people who were for this mass movement were in fact supporting the central committee of the League of Communists of Croatia against the communists in Belgrade. In logical terms, they were supporting the regime because they were on the side of the Party (although the Party has changed its position in Croatia). We, on the other side, were for Yugoslavia, but against the communists. So in fact we were, methodologically, acting against the Yugoslav model because we were against the Party.

We thought we were for Yugoslavia, but in the final analysis we were destroying Yugoslavia. They thought they were against Yugoslavia, but they were in fact supporting Yugoslavia because they were supporting the party nomenklatura and that was the essence of Yugoslavia at the time. This was the tragic-comic misunderstanding between the two positions.


But this nationalist sentiment never disappeared. What mechanism kept it alive? It obviously couldn’t be public in the way it was during the Croatian Spring.


On the one side, there was the idea of revanchism: what they have done to us should never be forgotten, and we will have our revenge one day. They were making lists of enemies and traitors all the times – enemies were Serbs and traitors were Croats who were not on their side and I was one of the latter – because that was the name of the game under the Communist system. They were trying to smuggle their ideas into the nomenklatura. The logic of the Yugoslav federal constitution was: if you’re in Zagreb you had to be against Belgrade, whether you were a nationalist or not.  The new leadership in Croatia again had quarrels with Belgrade but as the capital of Yugoslavia not as capital of Serbia. That was the difference between the nationalist and the reasonable critique. I did understand the critique of Yugoslavia; I didn’t understand this simple formula of being against the Serbs.

This was Tito’s idea. It was a simple tactic. Croats claimed that Yugoslavia was a Serb construction. Yet Tito, who was half-Croatian, was in control of Yugoslavia for 80 percent of its history. Croats held the prime minister position in Belgrade twice as long as the Serbs did. But within Croatia, Serbs had control of the secret police and were represented two or three times more in the political elite than as a percentage of the population. Both sides had solid arguments that Yugoslavia was against them. This balance held for decades until Tito’s death. And then suddenly it turned out that the system couldn’t function.


Some say that the 1974 constitution accepted the nationalists’ arguments.


Basically, they have accepted nationalist claims in this constitution. But this is the problem that people from the West can never understand. These legal documents were meant to be programmatic constructions not really systems of norms. The Soviet constitution from 1936 is understood among scholars of constitutional theory as one the best written constitutions ever, but more than two million people were killed in next two years after that constitution was adopted.  This constitution was meant to be a kind of window for shopping, a kind of fiction. The same was true for the Yugoslav constitution. After Tito’s death, it was a tragedy for the system. This constitution, which was meant to be a fiction, was somehow artificially put into the position of being a real constitution. But it was not meant to be a real constitution, and it couldn’t function as one. It was written as if Tito would last forever or there would be a comparable successor.

Here’s just a simple example. The system of consensus among the federal units didn’t work. The smallest unit, Montenegro, had some 2.5 percent of the population. But according to the Yugoslav constitution, the representatives from Montenegro could block every decision supported, at least theoretically, by representatives of 97.5 percent of the population. Such a system couldn’t function. This was, in constitutional terms, the beginning of the end.


You had insight into Tudjman for personal reasons, because you knew his son. When did you think that Milosevic would be a problem?


I met all the post-Yugoslav leaders, except Milosevic. Milosevic wrote a book in 1988. Since I was known as a “decent Croat” in Belgrade, I was chosen as one of the people to promote the book at an event to introduce it to the public. They had this idea to have intellectuals from all of Yugoslavia be part of this. For the first time in my life, I said no. I knew he was important. I was interested in meeting him. But I understood that this is something that I didn’t want to do.

I read the book and found out that it was a very precise replica of Stalinist jargon. At the beginning of book was a well-known and often-quoted interview with Milosevic by a Belgrade weekly. The legendary quality of this interview was that every answer was shorter than the question. And every answer started with “yes, of course” or “it is obvious that” or “as everyone knows.” That was exactly the Stalinist style. It’s what made Stalinism so strong in Oxford in 1936. It’s not difficult to understand why Stalinism was popular in Bulgaria, but it was also popular in Oxford, in Cambridge. Instead of having complicated intellectual debates, Stalin would have a simple formula – “Communists are internationalists in content and nationalists in form” or “we are idealists in morality but materialists in epistemology” – no one knew what this meant, but it had the sound of simple truth. That was the style of Milosevic.

I had an idea that this is the guy who will turn Yugoslav communism back to Stalinism, before 1948, in order to protect Yugoslavia. At that time, I didn’t see him as a nationalist leader, but only as a Yugoslav leader. Then in 1989, with this Kosovo thing, Milosevic tried the old trick of using nationalism as a tool for the rule of communism. His widow Mira Milosevic claims that Milosevic was not a nationalist, and I would agree. I never met him, but I believe that he was not a nationalist. He really believed that he could tame this tiger of nationalism and use it as a domestic animal for his own communist purposes. And then it went wrong.


Around this time, you and several others in former Yugoslavia wanted to create a party that would save Yugoslavia but as a democratic Yugoslavia.


No, we did not want to create a party. I was one of the two co-presidents. I wrote all the documents for this movement. We created an association: the Association for Yugoslav Democratic Initiatives. The idea was that we would make possible Yugoslav democratic elections for the Yugoslav parliament, but we would not take part in them. We would be facilitators. Later, colleagues like Ante Markovic started a kind of party activity.

We wanted to reconstitute Yugoslavia in terms of democratic pluralism. But what we achieved was to help nationalists in the different republics of Yugoslavia. In our organizations, guys like Seselj, Rugova, Tudjman all spoke for the first time publically because we made it possible. They were too afraid after being in jail for so long, and we were not afraid. We were, by the way, the only post-Yugoslav association that was never legalized in Croatia. Croatia legalized Tudjman’s HDZ, but not us. Because they claimed that we were against Croat interests. They didn’t want anyone who claimed that Yugoslavia should exist in the future.


Do you think that this alternative could have succeeded under certain conditions?


We started too late. We started in spring 1988. I am almost sure, though I can’t know it, that if we started six months earlier we would have been arrested. So basically we never had a chance.

Whenever we said democratic elections, we were told that “one person, one vote” would mean that Serbs would take over. But Serbs have a maximum of 35 percent of the Yugoslav population. They couldn’t rule. Neither all the Serbs nor all the Croats vote for one party.

In the last five years of Yugoslavia’s existence, it was almost a perfect pluralist system except that instead of parties we had ethno-parties: Croatian party, Serbian party. At the federal level, we had a very correct pluralist model. I wrote a set of principles for the new constitution of Yugoslavia with the idea of having two chambers – one of ethnicities, one of citizens. This was unacceptable to almost everyone. They wanted their own ethnic states within the former Yugoslav republics – and sometimes with some other territories as well.


One argument is that the EC insisted that democratic elections take place, made economic assistance contingent on these elections, but didn’t insist on democratic elections at the federal level.


It was absolutely amazing how deeply they were able to misunderstand what was going on in former Yugoslavia. Both Americans and the European Community came with substantial money to offering the different sides to stop the conflict. They came with the idea that Yugoslavia might be a candidate for the EC. But again it was too late. In 1988, with Ante Markovic it might have been successful, but by 1989 it was too late.

I recall vividly, in spring 1990, the foreign minister of Luxembourg, when Luxembourg was presiding over the European Community, came to Ljubljana. At the airport, he said, “We are not going to allow small states into Europe.” Ljubljana is not a very big town. But it has more people than the whole of Luxembourg! This was a joke for us. There are some criteria for them, and other criteria for us – which means there were no criteria. Which is a problem again with the enlargement of the European Union.

At that time they didn’t understand the problem. They thought all the time that they had to support Markovic and economic reforms. For 70 years, from Bukharin to Markovic, they always had the same primitive materialistic idea: if economic reform is successful, then political reforms will follow automatically. And it never happens that way – until the Chinese leadership understood that it went the other way around, that they could make economic reform possible as long as there was no political reform. And they are now a success. They are now a communist country in which hundreds of millions of people are brutally exploited.

The second mistake was that they understood that when Slovenes, Croats, and others were discussing democratization that they had democracy in mind and not the nation–state. When we organized the first elections in Slovenia and Croatia in March/April 1990, the very simple consequence was democratically legitimized rulers in Slovenia and Croatia and non-democratically legitimized rulers in the rest of Yugoslavia. There was a tiny minority of people oriented toward democracy and a large majority of people who wanted a Slovenian and Croatian nation-state no matter what.

I was one of two people writing the Croatian law of elections in December 1989. It was clear that there were not going to be Yugoslav democratic elections and that the reconstitution of Yugoslavia was not going to happen, so I said let’s see what we can do here in Croatia.


Jumping to today, do you think that Croatia has moved through its most extremist phase? HDZ is now out of power and is being investigated for corruption. Its politics have moved more to the center. The Party of Rights now only has one representative in parliament.  Has the pendulum has moved back and Croatia now has a functioning democracy.


More or less yes. But here is the problem. We have something quite like a functioning democracy. But after 2007-8, we had to learn the hard way that this is not enough. We have to take care of society, not just community. Democracy cannot support the exploitation of people, massive fraud, a system in which people cannot survive. They have the right to vote. They don’t vote for fascist or crypto-fascists any more. But they have nothing to eat. Almost eight percent of the whole population is unemployed. This is the tragedy. This democracy we were fighting so much for, when we have more or less achieved it, many people think of it as just bourgeois democracy that doesn’t solve social problems. It’s criminally disinterested in social problems. There are always problems with democracy, of course. But this is the problem of social existence.


In most countries, this would spur the development of a strong Social Democratic Party, a strong Labor Party. Has that finally emerged here?


We have a strong Social Democratic party, which I don’t think is a Social Democratic party, and neither is HDZ a Christian Democratic party. We have a two-party system like in the United States, with no substantial differences between the parties. But you know from three generations back that your family voted Republican or Democratic, and that’s a given. Maybe one is a bit more right, one a bit more left. It’s the same thing in Croatia.

Here are two simple illustrations. Tomislav Karamarko, who was elected president of HDZ, announced publicly two days before he was elected that he left his wife, but still he was elected as the president of a Christian democratic party. This is a paradox! The Social Democrats, now in power, are very conscientiously destroying trade unions. This is not what Social Democrats do. They are acting toward trade unions here almost exactly the same way Margaret Thatcher did 30 years ago. We have a liberal party, which opposes the legalization of abortion. So these names are not something you can compare to political standards. Whenever I say something like this, the politicians say, “You are a professor. You look at these concrete problems in an unacceptably theoretical way.” But I simply see problems with the compatibility of Croatian parties with international standards of liberal democracy, Christian democracy, whatever.


Is there anything on the horizon that would reorient the political spectrum in a more sensible way?


Not for the moment. There is only one opposition party, the Labor Party. They are now near 10 percent. They were quite small two years ago. They are arguing very strongly for the rights of working people. But for my taste, they use a bit too much populist demagoguery. On other side, there were attempts in the last two years to build a new movement called the “direct democracy movement” among students and some intellectuals. But they turned out to be again about mass rallies and mass meetings rather than direct democracy. They tend to be part of this international movement of Occupy This and That, which has the same problem that my generation had in 1968.

We were very successful in pointing out disagreements and showing what we thought was wrong. But at the moment when it seemed possible that the system would collapse and someone had to do something to take it over, nobody was ready, just like France in the summer of 1968. Again we have this idea of anti-politics, but no one really knows what this means. Activists want to change things, but we don’t want to be politicians. You know that old anecdote of John F Kennedy talking to pupils in a school somewhere in 1962: every mother wants her son to be president but no American mother wants her son to be a politician. This is somehow a description of the problem. People really believe that they can change the political community without being politicians. And that just allows some politicians to talk about a leftist danger or a rightist danger and to argue, “so stick with us because we’re in the center and we’re the safe bet.”


This is a problem throughout the region.


Yes, and not just the region.


In the United States, too.


Yes, and when Obama was elected, a colleague of mine wrote a book filled with such love and praise for Obama that I wrote in an article that I hadn’t seen an article with so many exclamation marks since the death of Tito. The article was trying to show that what Obama is doing should be an inspiration for our politicians, and my response was that I hope that they don’t anything like Obama because Obama was going to kill more people than all the Croat politicians have killed in the last 20 years. They said, “You’re always saying negative things! He says he’s a peacemaker, and he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize.” But he didn’t even close Guantanamo. Maybe he couldn’t, but that’s another question. Within Croatia, the politicians are more primitive, their communication skills are very low. Although: when I saw the Republican debate, I really believe that we don’t have such stupid politicians here in Croatia. I didn’t want to watch this Republican debate because then I’d have some sympathy for the more stupid Croatian politicians here!

That’s the problem for democracy right now. In three weeks will be the election of the president of the world. But only 300 million people vote. Yet, this president claims to be democratically legitimate. Me, I only have the right to vote for the local sheriff. But my destiny will be decided much more by Mr. Obama than by Mr. Josipovic. In the leftist and rightist critique of globalization, they claim that there is too much globalization. I argue that we need more globalization. We need political globalization. We have global markets, global communications. We also need global regulation. We need global government, a global parliament. I don’t think anyone understands this now, but in 20-30 years, this will be the official issue.

People are dissatisfied with Croatian democracy on the grounds that this system shows no interest in the real problems of existence for hundreds of thousands of Croatian citizens. On the other side, this democracy doesn’t decide on important things, because the decisions are coming from the outside. Politicians in Croatia and elsewhere in the region are acting as if it’s 1945 when they said, “The comrades in Moscow have decided.” Now they say, “The people in Brussels have decided, and we cannot go against Brussels.”


On the topic of European integration, it seems from my side of the Atlantic that the EU was a hedge against neoliberalism. But increasingly, and even George Soros agrees with this, it appears to be the leading edge of neoliberalism, and that will have serious consequences here. The problems you discuss of the limitations of democracy in addressing social issues will only be accentuated.


Absolutely. George Soros wrote an article a few months ago that even mentioned class war in discussing the European Union. Ten years ago, this would have been absolutely shocking.

Croatia is clearly entering the EU much too late. First of all, the EU has lost its credibility in this region after accepting Bulgaria and Romania. These countries are not just behind Croatia, they’re behind Serbia. There are Romanian guest workers in Serbia, in Vojvodina. The EU says to the Bosnia Herzegovina leadership that they can’t enter the EU divided like that. But Cyprus was divided more deeply and for longer, and one part of the country was accepted into the EU and not the other. They say to Serbia that accession can’t start until the situation with Kosovo is resolved. But they had accession discussions with Turkey for decades and Turkey has occupied the territory of a member state of the European Union.

Second, the democratic deficit in the EU becomes every day a bigger problem. The European commission is now the strongest center of power in the world without a parliament except for the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party. From our point of view, every day the EU looks more like former Yugoslavia. The EU has much stronger human rights standards and economic standards and democratic tradition, but there are some evident parallels.

Third, in terms of the leftist critique, it’s becoming an EU of huge capital instead of an EU taking care of people who are worse off. They are talking about banks, which has to be done, but they show no social interest as a basic political orientation, regardless of whether they are liberals, social democrats, Christian democrats. We have, for instance, labor legislation from the era of Yugoslav communism that is better in many respects than what you can find in EU labor legislation. But we will change that legislation to become a good member state of the EU. This was not a problem 10 years ago when the EU was a strong guarantee against local nationalism and American capital. The European middle class is better off than in the United States. But there are still a lot of Europeans who have these socialist ideas in the back of their heads, and for them this is not enough.


I’ve come across a new left here in the region: mostly young people, not oriented toward parties, but consciously calling themselves a new left. Many of them point to Zagreb as an inspiration because of its anarchist formations, the Subversive Festival. Even with your critique of their anti-politics, do you see this emerging as an important counterbalance?


It seemed like something might be happening two years ago, and then it suddenly stopped because a generation of students finished their education and left university. Contrary to people in 1968, they were incapable of formulating general elements of a program. Their whole idea was a redistribution of .3 percent of the state budget. It’s very hard to call this a revolution. Or they fought to save three streets near the square here. The problem is that you can mobilize people around small items not around general problems. Thousands and thousands protest to fight for three streets, but only 200 people protest to fight global capitalism.

As for the Subversive Festival, well, it was opened by the minister of culture. She’s my former student. I said to her, “Either you resign, or you do not go there.” The whole idea of the Subversive Festival is to overturn the government. That’s how I understand the word “subversive.” But they had 15 minutes of prime time coverage on state TV every day of the festival, and the daily newspapers, which are controlled by huge companies, gave them several pages of coverage. What’s subversive about this? Clowns like Slavoj Zizek can have very radical formulations. But whatever subversive thing I say that’s on the evening news is no longer subversive because it’s the evening news. As McCluhan said, it’s already shaped by the medium.

They are intellectually appealing, but politically incapable of organizing something that is alternative. It is not true that you can call direct democracy 700 people sitting next to each other and voting unanimously. This is a mass rally. Mass means that there are no individuals, just one body. This was the same in 1971 or 1968. When I see this, I know that this is no democracy. They were not able to translate their support into the practice of politics as we have it here. I hope that a new generation can start something new. But usually they don’t come so quickly, one movement after another. So, in this respect, I’m not very optimistic.


Does anything make you optimistic at this point?


There is one reason for optimism here locally. There is a rising percentage of people able to reasonably discuss the war of 20 years ago, relations with Serbs, and so on.

The problem is, again, that the social context is being neglected. We have a traditional belief that there is no democracy without capitalism. But there also can be capitalism without democracy, and this is what I’m afraid of. This democracy is not strong enough to survive the pressures of capitalism and the institutional pressures of the EU.

Once I gave a lecture to a congress of physicians discussing medical ethics. There were people from around the world. The critical issue, I told them at one point, is how much money you give for medical care. If you have a heart attack on the streets of Chicago or Havana, the chances of survival in Cuba are 10 times better even though they give out 5-10 times less per capita for medical care. So, I asked, would you accept a one-party system without civil liberties if it provided really good medical care? More than 63 percent said yes. They are physicians so they are perhaps biased toward medical care, but still.

That’s what the American ideology cannot understand. The authority of Cuba is based not on Castro and the political system but the medical and school system. That’s what you hear in Peru or Nicaragua when you mention Cuba. They have better hospitals and better schools for everyone. It’s not better revolutionary leadership, about which people are more or less cynical. This is how I see the weakness of all these post-communist democracies. They are sandwiched between social pressure that they can’t translate into politics and institutional pressure from Brussels that they can’t translate into national politics.


Is there anything since 1989-90 that you’ve had serious second thoughts about?


I really believed that Yugoslavia could be saved, and I was wrong. Maybe it was possible two years before, but the activity to do this was not possible.  I was wrong in believing this.

I was right in being against nationalism, but I was wrong in believing that at least some nationalists could not turn into acceptable liberals. At the time, I believed that no nationalist could be democratically oriented, which was not true.

I think I was wrong in believing that a concentration on liberal politics can be effective without liberal economy. There’s an old Chinese saying: if you want a cat, you have to take the tail as well. We believed that liberal politics, which was the basis of the critique of the old Yugoslav system and the critique of the nationalist systems of Tudjman and Milosevic and others, could be executed without paying the price of the economic tail of this model. We’re still paying that price, which is the current crisis. Actually, it’s more like a depression. In a crisis, you can stay put or go forward. A depression is just a grey nothingness. I have a feeling that Croatia is now semi-existing under the pressure of this depression.


Zagreb, October 15, 2012


Interview (2008)



Practically no one here accepts the label of belonging to the Balkans. In itself, this is a deeper level of Balkanization. If you don’t understand “Balkan” in geographic but rather in cultural, historical, and military terms, then you are making a kind of value judgment. In the Croatian tradition, partially because one part of the country belongs to the Austro-Hungarian tradition and the other to the Italian tradition, “Balkan” was something for the peasants, the primitives, and the Serbs (who were both). You can’t even discuss “Balkan” here except as a nasty word. “Balkan” means: you’re acting the wrong way.

Our late president Franjo Tudjman was always ready to tell people that a) we don’t belong to the Balkans and b) we are a local power. But if Croatia doesn’t belong to the Balkans but rather to Central Europe, then clearly Croatia is not local power. This is the game that Croatia is always playing.

Now the real shock is that Bulgaria and Romania are linked to the European Union. Somehow the European Union has jumped over former Yugoslavia and landed in the East. This leaves former Yugoslavia as a kind of black hole, except for Slovenia. So, now we have two holes in Europe. One is rose (Switzerland) and the other is black (former Yugoslavia).


Another form of primitization is the American type of globalization. This is Coca Cola culture, McDonalds culture. Every second store in Zagreb has an inscription you can’t understand if you don’t speak English. That’s a formal sign of this kind of globalization. The leftist critique is that this globalization is on behalf of big, capitalist, imperialist powers. The nationalistic critique claims this is destruction of our traditions and habits. The nationalists and the leftists always claim that it is by accident that they are speaking in the same terms. Up to a point, this is true – they talk the same but are not the same. But politically, they are both trying to act as an obstacle to globalization. Both sides have a feeling rather than a notion that there simply has been too much globalization.

My position, however, is that there hasn’t been enough globalization. We have economic, cultural, communications globalization. We have a global village. What Marshall McCluhan – once in fashion, now forgotten – said is now the fact. In my opinion, though, we now need political globalization. Whenever the market culture has been broader than the political community, the world has been in trouble. The question is whether the UN can be organized to become a world parliament or a world government. Without this, I see no way to control multinational corporations or their aim to transfer economic influence into political power.

In Croatia, all the relevant political actors are only too happy to be sucked into Euro-Atlantic integration – the EU plus NATO. No party that has more than 1 percent of voters would oppose these two integrations. Among the population, opposition is much higher – 45% are against NATO and 30-35% are Euroskeptics and Europhobes. These numbers change a bit. For instance, if something happens between Serbia and Kosovo, another 5 % goes for NATO. But if someone dies in Afghanistan among the soldiers there, there’s a drop in support of 10% the following week.


In the early 1990s, we learned that there was a simple choice: democracy or Yugoslavia. The other choice was Yugoslavia or war. This was my real motivation for my pro-Yugoslav activity. When I understood that there would be no democratic Yugoslavia, I still understood that war was the worse alternative. Many people then believed that they could make independent states out of the Yugoslav republics without war, which didn’t prove to be true.

Before the war, there were two groups. One group tried to organize a political party based on a common Yugoslav program in the different post-Yugoslav republics. The other accepted democracy within the new states. I was arguing for Yugoslavia until the war started. Then, at the same time, I accepted becoming one of the two authors of the new election law here in Croatia. I decided it was important to have democracy in Croatia if not in Yugoslavia.

So we had war. It was the same old story. After the war, after the ethnic cleansing, there were fewer Serbs in Croatia. Only now can this smaller group get more democratic rights. Our deputy prime minister is of Serb origin. And the Serbs represent only 4% of the population. When we had 14% Serbs in 1990, no one dreamed of having a Serbian prime minister. Did there have to be the ethnic cleansing of Indians to have democracy in the United States? I don’t know.

Unlike the American model – of assimilation, of allowing ethnic tradition free rein in private life not public life – the European tradition was not a melting pot. There were certain cultural preconditions for a democratic community, and these were interpreted to mean ethnic preconditions. Hannah Arendt talks about an original community. There is a concept in Rousseau, too, of a cultural community – the same language, the same manner of public behavior – which makes democracy easier. This was realized in a primitive manner in the post-Yugoslav states.


There are these discussions in France about the wearing of the chador – whose rights are we really protecting? Those of a community? Or the rights of the parents to exercise terror over their daughters who have to do what their parents say, without being asked if this was their opinion. That’s the problem with multiculturalism. It accepts communities as if membership can really capture the notion of my identity. If I say I’m a Croat, does it really say enough about who I am? I am a Croat. But I am also a, leftist, a male, an atheist, a philosopher, a professor. I am a crossroads. But if you say, “He’s a Croat” – and that’s enough for a multicultural construction – it reduces me to one dimension. This is sometimes necessary. If someone comes here and says, “Let’s kill all the Croats,” that becomes the crucial part of my identity.

If you tell me that an ethnic or cultural group has some rights that I understand as violating other human rights, then I’m against these human rights. I don’t think anyone can have the right to force women to do this or that, men to do this or that. Human rights are a kind of trump card. They are stronger than the multicultural tradition. I accept the multicultural tradition up to the point at which basic human rights are not jeopardized. This is the perpetual conflict between individual and collective rights.

During war, the only relevant question is survival. If we shoot people as Serbs or Croats, it’s irrelevant if they are good philosophers or engineers. There were a few dozen ethnic Croats who opposed the pressure against the Serbs in this country in 1991-92. Serbian troops were 24 kilometers from where we are sitting. People said this is not the time or place to discuss abstract human rights. Serbs here were arguing for human rights, but the Croats say, “It doesn’t matter. Other Serbs started a war but it doesn’t matter whether they are different Serbs or not.” The same thing happened in Republika Srpska. There were practically no internal dynamics within the groups.

In summer 1993, Croatian national TV decided not to transmit the finale of the French Open because Monica Seles was playing against Steffi Graff. It was clear that on clay court Seles would win. Croatian TV decided it would not be healthy for the Croatian public to see her win.

At that time, people were evicted from flats because they were Serbs. I and a few dozen activists in Zagreb, Split, and elsewhere were trying to help them survive. They were forced to leave their flats, they lost their jobs. It was said that they were somehow responsible for what other Serbs were doing in Vukovar. In the same way, Americans of Japanese origin were sent to camps in 1942. This is not to excuse Croatia, only to show that it was the same kind of public spirit.

Because of the work I was doing on behalf of the displaced Serbs, a few people decided not talk to me any more. I was a traitor. I was spoiling the image of Croatia abroad. The newspaper attacked me once a week. If the TV published my picture, it was worse. In spring 1992, I had to go three times for a chemical cleansing because people spit on my coat. I was the first one on German TV to say that there was ethnic cleansing going on here in Croatia. Germany was understood as some kind of a big brother to us. So I was attacked in almost epic form in the highest-circulation daily as a local agent of a world-wide Anglo-French-Jewish conspiracy against Croatia. Being relatively well known, I don’t think I was under any real danger. In many ways, though, I was alone. I would be walking through corridors at university and colleagues wouldn’t greet me.

Now it is another atmosphere. They are thinking: you might have been right but the way you did it was not elegant. You can’t act as if we are in London. We had to fight against the primitive Yugoslav National Army. This was the terror of Balkanization in Croatia: with the wolves you have to howl like a wolf.


A lot of people are ready to discuss the rights of minorities now, because it is now 10-13 years after the war. It’s like we are in Europe in 1958, a decade after World War II. Not even the stupidest Croat nationalists think that Serbs here pose any threats to Croatia – or that Serbs outside the country pose any threat because they lost the war. There is no way to impose any kind of hysteria. We have a kind of cooling down of the situation. We can discuss things normally with a new generation that was not involved. The fear of war and being killed is relatively far away.

The Serbs here are now a very important part of the political scene. The ruling party needs to show a so-called human face to the EU and the international community.

People from NGOs have tried to introduce a kind of facing of the past. The situation here is now much more open than 10 years ago, and we can now discuss these issues. But there’s no feeling of collective responsibility. “Okay,” we say, “this person has done this crime. Let him be judged. But we were under pressure of war. We can’t be held responsible.”


Interview (1990)


A political philosopher at the University of Zagreb, Zarko Puhovski studies the relationship between ethics and politics, specifically the question of tolerance. He has also been quite active in the political developments in Yugoslavia through the Association of Democratic Initiatives. His academic interests and political activism has led him to write recently on “real existing socialism,” a book due out in Yugoslavia next week. I talked with him in his office at the Philosophy Faculty.


I was told that you are involved in the Social Democratic Party here in Croatia.


I am not actually involved in the Social Democratic party. I was and am still involved in the Association for Yugoslav Democratic Initiative. The Social Democratic Party was founded by the members of this Association. The Association, and I was one of the founders, was the first alternative political organization in Yugoslavia and was the first Yugoslav organization. Because all the others were parties, national parties in Serbia, Croatia. Our organization was founded in January 1989 and was the first in Yugoslavia which was not a member of the so-called Socialist Alliance which was the regime mass organization which had to cover all the non-communist but sympathetic to communism-oriented political or non-political structures.

Our Association has two goals: to preserve Yugoslavia and organize Yugoslavia as a democratic, parliamentary federation. But the events have shown that it is almost certain that we will have elections in all Yugoslav republics by the end of the year. But I still do not believe that we will have Yugoslav elections, elections for Yugoslav Assembly. That’s the problem for us. Politically it means that nationalist orientations have democratic legitimation, because there have been elections in Slovenia and Croatia which were quite free elections. Of course, all of the problems which you have in the first elections in 50 years. But they were quite correct and free. And the result was that the nationalist forces have managed to become democratically legitimated. Contrary to that position, the Yugoslav position, is widely accepted as something that is not democratically legimitized. And that’s the problem for our Yugoslav and democratic orientation. Because we have all the time feared that we could come into a situation in which we would have to decide if we were for Yugoslavia or for democracy. Of course, my option would be for democracy. But I still hope that there would be some kind of possibility to preserve Yugoslavia as a democratic state.

We have quite a remarkable situation in which there is practically more sympathy for Yugoslavia outside Yugoslavia than within. Sometimes people who advocate the Yugoslav position say that “it is quite all right that the U.S. or European Community is for Yugoslavia.” But the problem is that if someone outside Yugoslavia would guarantee Yugoslavia, it could lead to the preservation of Yugoslavia but not to the preservation of democratic Yugoslavia. Because you need people inside Yugoslavia who want to live in some kind of Yugoslav state in order to have the possibility of a democratic regime in Yugoslavia.

Now, as far as we can see, people are mostly concerned with their national states in some republics. All the problems we have begin with the fact that we have had and will have quite fair elections, but based on a collective subject and not individual subjects. People still understand themselves as members of the Croat nation or within the ethnic nation, Serbian ethnic nation. You have the problem in Croatia, for instance: they tried to differentiate between popular sovereignty which is basic to democracy and national or ethnic sovereignty which would mean that Croats in Croatia would have some kind of special position compared to non-Croats, Serbs. Which is of course contrary to democratic tradition and democratic institutions. But the argument is that we Croats cannot have our state in any other place in the world so we must have the state here. And we must say that this is the state of Croat ethnicity. Which is of course something you could question. Because there is not the usual situation in modern constitutions of democratic states–the French republic is the state of French ethnicity (though it actually is because they are the majority there).

My organization started by advocating those two items. We have produced some kind of brief sketch for the new Yugoslav democratic constitution. We are involved in lots of discussions in all the parts of Yugoslavia. And since we were the first non-regime organization in all the parts of Yugoslavia, we have helped all the others, most of the nationalistic organizations to start. Because they have an easier time establishing themselves after we have done it as the first organization.


Do you have chapters in each republic?


Yes, in all the republics. We now have 42 branches throughout Yugoslavia.


How did you participate in elections in Croatia and Slovenia?


We did not participate in elections in Croatia and Slovenia. We have decided that we will act as a service for democratization. We helped on the election law which we would not be able to do if our organization was part of the elections. We were in lots of juries or commissions for the elections. But we did not participate with our candidates. Although a lot of members were members of election staffs in several political organizations which took part in the elections. Because our principle is that our members could have the right to be members of political parties if they want. And some of them are. But now we will have a conference on Oct. 6 in Belgrade and we will probably decide to participate in Bosnia/Herzegovina and in Serbia because our members there think that it will be opportune to do that. And of course we say that if they think it is OK, we will not in other parts of Yugoslavia tell them not to. So most probably we are going to decide that at least in those republics, our Association will participate in those elections.

From the very beginning, we said that we would participate in the elections of the Yugoslav Constitutional Assembly. But unfortunately we do not have too bright prospects for that.


What are the major reasons why those Yugoslav elections are not likely in the near future?


The principal one: one person, one vote. Slovenia and Croatia think that this would lead to a kind of majoritization by Serbs. Because there is a majority of Serbs in Yugoslavia. Because they suppose that all the Serbs would vote for all one party, all the Croats for another and so on and the Serbs would therefore have a majority. But first of all, Serbs have only 36 per cent of the Yugoslav population which is only a relative majority. And second of all, there was never a case, when you have really free elections, that people who belong to one ethnic nation would vote unanimously for one option. The whole point of the election is to have some kind of pluralist situation in which people could agree or disagree according to ethnic but also religious, or political or ideological or economic or social points. And consequently, it is not thinkable that all the Serbs or all the Croats would be on the same side. But that’s the situation we have now. And those two republics who have elections already are advocating some kind of confederation in Yugoslavia because they think that confederation as a union of independent states would preserve them from centralism or unitarism as they call it or Serbian majority.


Have people talked about the Czechoslovakian solution of having a House of People and a House of Nations?


That was our proposal in our draft of the constitution which I wrote. We suggested that there should be two chambers in parliament, one based on one person, one vote and another in which each republic would have the same number of places. In this chamber of republics, they could have some kind of veto power for some points which would be in intimate connection to some republic or nation. But the moment you say that there is a possibility of elections based on the rule of one person, one vote in Yugoslavia–Croatia and Slovenia are directly opposed. Although, at the same time in Croatia, they are advocating the principle of one person, one vote against the Serbian minority. And the Serbian minority wants the constitution of Croatia to have two chamber parliament: one with one person, one vote and the other with nationalities which would some kind of equal representation. So it is not a principled position.


I understand that there was a referendum here on the position of Serbs in Croatia.


It was not really a referendum. First they said it was a referendum, then a plebiscite, then a questionnaire. They had to decide – the Serbs in Croatia – about Serbian autonomy in Croatia. But first of all they didn’t say what kind of autonomy they mean. Then they didn’t say that they wanted an autonomous province in this or that part of Croatia with a map or with the borders of such a province. And they didn’t show how they would organize this Serbian province. And what would be the rights of the minorities within minorities–the Croats within the now established Serbian majority in Croatia. They didn’t say what the connections would be between Croatia and Yugoslavia. They said that they would like to have political or cultural autonomy. And you had to say, yes or no. And no one would really be able to say what did that mean – you would have to wait for someone to interpret your yes or no as a political fact.

Second of all, there is no list of Serbs in Croatia. You can’t say, he’s a Serb or not. They’re all white, they speak the same language. I could come there and say, “I’m a Serb and I’d like to say no.” I mean, the Croatian majority could come there and all say no to Serbian autonomy – and no on could tell me that you’re not a Serb because no one could tell.


There’s no kind of documentation?


There is. But according to our constitution, we have the right to say publically our ethnic nationality or to keep it private. A lot of people said in our last census that they are Yugoslavs. So if there is no list of Serbs, you can’t say what is the majority. So there is no point in having a referendum if you don’t know the total population: 2/3, absolute or relative majority. Thirdly, it is against all democratic principles to have a referendum in only part of the state. And to say that you have a right and he doesn’t have a right to participate in the referendum, because he is not a Serb. So after all those critiques, the Serbian organizations in Croatia had to say no, it’s not a referendum, it’s a kind of questionnaire in which we ask whether people support a special organization of Serbian Croats. And now practically everybody understands it as a questionnaire. Although there were Croat reactions that they would use weapons against the Serbs and stop the transportation and communication through some parts of Croatia where Serbs have majority.


There are historic problems between Croats and Serbs, yes?


Yes, for decades. During the war, there was an independent Croat state in which hundreds of thousands of Serbs were killed in concentration camps. Of course it was major crime. And after the war Serbs have been trying to show that all the Croats are to blamed. Its always an ideological interpretation of history but it is quite a history of misunderstandings and direct violence.


At any point did you think of developing the Association of Democratic Initiatives into an umbrella political organization similar to Civic Forum in Czechoslovakia?


Yes. We had a conference in January of this year in Sarajevo and we discussed whether to start a political organization within the Association or not. And we were kind of split. There were maybe 60-40 against the party because a lot of people were already members of parties and they thought that the Association was a forum in which you could discuss with people. We all want pluralistic democracy and a federated Yugoslavia and all our differences could be important only after the moment when we have a Yugoslav parliament in which all those parties could be represented. So the people who wanted to organize a political party organized the League of Social Democratic parties – all of these people were members of our organization.


I don’t know much about the elections here in Croatia except that the Nationalists won. Were there a lot of parties participating?


Yes, there were quite a lot of parties. There was one party, Croatian Democratic Community (CDC) which has almost 57.5 per cent of the places in the parliament. Then the Communists have about 30 percent.


They changed their name?


Yes. They are the Communist Party–Party of Democratic Change. They didn’t get rid of their traditional name they simply added another part to the name. But they will have another conference in October and will probably change their name then.

And there’s some Serbian organizations, some minor Croatian organizations. We have almost 24 parties in the elections but only 5 have representatives in parliament. Because we had some kind of pre-political elections. Obviously, a big majority understood that there was a chance to vote for the CDC – that is, the Croat state – and not for one of the options within the Croatian Democratic Community which is the situation in normal elections. It is therefore a zero election. We have established a democratic state and then we are going to differentiate between the new established Croatian Democratic Community. We expect new elections in May of next year, one year after the first. That was previous agreement between all the parties participating in the elections. And I hope that the ruling party will not forget the promise. So I hope we will have these elections and they will be much more like normal pluralist elections.


The CDC then has many tendencies within it?


They are not a party, they are some kind of movement. They have a very strong right-wing, even crypto-fascist. But they also have a social democrat wing and some kind of Catholic center. But all those orientations have not formed as factions already. You know the people and you know he is not part of one group and not another, and they know each other, but they have not formed groups within the organization. And they still now live within the euphoria of the new Croatian state and under the authority of the strong man who is the leader, General Tudjman.


Why do you say crypto-fascist?


There is a wing which would really be happy to get rid of Serbs. No one would say to kill them. But you could hear some of them saying that there is no place for Serbs in Croatia. Or they say that they will put them a thousand meters under the ground if the Serbs say anything against the Croat state. The president Tudjman, for instance, said in an interview that he has heard rumors that his wife is of Serbian-Jewish origin but thank God that is not the truth. That was his exact formulation. Then he said, “I didn’t mean that.” They have been used to think that Serbs are against Croat interests and they have to defend themselves. But Hitler also said at the beginning that Germany had to be defended against the international plutocracy, Jewish bankers and so on. I don’t say that they are prevailing. But they are quite an important part. And they manage to send the former president of government Mr. Mesic to Belgrade and Mesic is one of those social democratic personalities. And it widely regarded as a success of the right wing in the CDC.


They sent him as…?


As a member of the Federal Presidency. Which is usually of course a form of promotion. But, in fact, he was the second man in Croatia and now he’s some kind of ambassador to Belgrade. Formerly, he could be the President of Yugoslavia next year. But the president of the Yugoslavia hasn’t the power of someone in the republic. With the exception of economic power which is still partly in the hands of the federal government of Ante Markovic.


Do republics have to abide by decisions of the federal government?


No. According to the recent changes in the Slovenian and Croat constitutions, they have said that laws of Slovenia and Croatia are above federal regulations. Second of all, the federal government itself is composed of three members from every republic. And all of them have to think about where their base is and who they have to listen to. They will try to do things in the interests of their republic. Third of all, the laws in the Federal Assembly could be accepted only by the principle of consent, which means that all the republics must be for it; if any of the republics is against it, you can’t do anything. Practically, the federal government has a lot of power. But the power is practically in act if all the republics are for it. Which means it hasn’t authority in itself but only as a derivation from the federal units.


What kind of solidarity is there between the republics in terms of anti-Serbian sentiment?


It depends. Of course, Slovenia and Croatia are together. But not always. They are together now and I am almost sure that they will not be together in ten months.


There are historic tensions between these two republics?


The tradition in Yugoslavia was in the old Yugoslavia before the war and in the new Yugoslavia until two years ago, Slovenia was always with Serbia against Croatia. Practically always. Because there is Croatia between Serbia and all the other parts of Yugoslavia. So if there is any danger to Slovenia, it can only be from Croatia, not from Serbia. In Bosnia, there is a split situation because there are Serbs and Croats as well as Moslems. Montenegro will always be for Serbia. Macedonia has some elements of solidarity with Serbians against Albanians. But they also have a fear of Serbia because Macedonia was a part of Serbia. You can expect a lot of Macedonians to be against Serbia and also some people from Bosnia. But for the time being, no one important from Montenegro.


There has been a new economic program – a typical anti-inflationary type – from Markovic. How has the Croatian government responded to it?


Both Croat and Slovenian governments have said that they think the program is OK and they would like to work on it. But they are against the aspiration toward centralization which they felt in the Markovic program. Of course that is contradictory because some parts of the program have to be centralized if you want to supervise the market, if you want to have a monetary or tax policy. It is quite interesting that Slovenia, very direct, and Croatia, not so direct, are against the unique taxes in Yugoslavia: which means that there would be the same principle of taxation. It’s not a question of whether the money goes to Belgrade or not. They are against the same principle of taxation. Which means that they’re not ready for the level of coordination that exists in the European Community already, even before 1993.


Are there any major differences between Markovic plan and the CDC plan?


No. But they would like to have such a program for Croatia and not for Yugoslavia. Because they hope still to have an independent state. Everything economically speaks against it. Politically, there are some reasons for it of course because they think as Croats they can’t be free in Yugoslavia. But economically and practically and internationally, everything is against it.


Are there major economic ties between Croatia and, say, Serbia?


Of course. Croatia and Slovenia have much more industry and they need semi-products from other parts of Yugoslavia. Which means raw materials and so on.


How is the economic situation in Croatia?


It is not so important how it is but how it will be. Because some experts expect almost 30 per cent of new unemployed by the end of the year. That would some kind of disaster. And they have to do it. According to the socialist economy, the most important thing was to find a working place. Now, we want to act economically, we must say we don’t need such a number of employees. Second of all, there is no strategic economic plan: what we are going to do as a major productive orientation of Yugoslavia – chemical industry, agriculture – that’s the problem. And you still have the unemployment. And there is still a fear of inflation. They all think that if the Markovic government loses its position as federal government, we are going to face a new period of inflation. So they all believe that there is no time now for decisions affecting the future. There is no strategy.


Officials in other East European countries who are adopting marketizing reform simply say that the market will make those decisions.


The market will solve all our problems. You have to be stupid to believe this. I lived in some Western countries so I know that this doesn’t work. But you know, it doesn’t deserve further discussions. But you have to use some elements of traditional anti-inflation policy which means that you are on some kind of economic defensive. At the same time, you need some kind of planning. Not like socialist planning but some kind of orientation about what you are going to do with the country.


An industrial policy, for instance.


Industrial policy, agricultural policy, tourist policy, communication policy. Which we don’t have. We had it in part on the Yugoslav level. But if you want to live in Croatia as an independent state then you have to find some new priorities. The road Ljubljana-Zagreb-Belgrade-Skopje-Greece is of course very important for Europe and for Yugoslavia. It is important for Europe but not so important for Croatia. For Croatia it is much more important the road Zagreb-Split. So you have to decide what you are going to do.


When Croatians first decided to hold free elections, was there a lot of anxiety about how Serbia would respond?


No. Serbia and Yugoslavia helped. Because we had this nationalist idea that we had to do something different from what they were doing. And they have showed that they were against elections so for us it was a natural thing to say we are against the Serbians and therefore will have the elections. So they helped.


But there was no concern?


Of course. The question was always: what will the army do? But the army didn’t do anything. They said, “if we do that, the army will interfere,” but it didn’t. When the decision had to be made that in Croatia there would be free elections, there was a Congress of the Communist party of Croatia. And the president of the CP was at that time a person who was a deputy under Ante Markovic when he was in Croatia a manager of a big factory. And he was against it. So the people who wanted elections had to phone to Ante Markovic and say that it has to be done. Of course, Markovic was always considered a liberal in the Federal institution. And now it is quite clear that all the republics in Yugoslavia will have free elections in 6 or 9 months.


There was a general strike in Kosovo yesterday. I heard that there were also solidarity strikes here in Zagreb?


In Zagreb in the student center there was a big meeting. A colleague of mine, a physician, a Minister of Health in Zagreb has started a hunger strike in support of the physicians in Kosovo. Because a lot of them have lost their jobs because they are not correct as far as the new Serbian government is concerned. He is near the rectory and the Croatian National Theater. He is staying in front of some monument discussing with people and he has started a hunger strike. Only Albanians in Slovenia and Croatia have struck in solidarity. No one else.


Is there a large degree of support within Croatia for the movement in Kosovo?


The problem is – there is quite a lot of support for the people in Kosovo – but you can’t be sure whether they are doing it for the cause or because they think that it’s OK because it’s anti-Serbian. It’s quite interesting that the officials of the new government have not said anything against the Serbian acts which have practically destroyed the autonomy of Kosovo. Because they thought that if they were going to give support to Albanians it could be understood as the right of Serbians to give support to Serbs in Croatia when they want autonomy. So they didn’t say anything officially. Of course, in newspapers you will hear a lot of things against the events in Kosovo.


How do you think the situation there will be resolved? Will Kosovo become a republic?


I don’t think it’s really important. Symbolically important. But as an autonomous province five years ago, Kosovo was practically equal to the other republics with their rights. And I think that the problem is whether there will be some kind of democratization in Serbia which would include Kosovo or not. If we are going to have that – with free elections in Kosovo, you could see what the interests of the Albanians. On the other hand, it is quite important what is going on with the state of Albania. If there will be some democratiziation there, that would produce much more pressure on Yugoslavia and on Serbia in Kosovo. If not, you would always be able to say, well they are still living much worse than you do. In perspective, I think, they will have quite a high level of autonomy, if not a republic. But I do not think a republic is possible because it is some kind of holy ground of Serbian traditions. It would be a real casus belli.


The Czechs say that Slovak autonomy will be handled by European integration. In the meantime…


That’s quite naive. They say that in Yugoslavia too. First of all, there is a meantime which could be 20 years. Second of all, there are such problems in democratic states as well. Basque, Ireland, some regions of France, Bavaria in West Germany. I don’t think it will be solved.


Croatia and Slovenia have talked about becoming individual members of the European community?


Yes, they hope so. But there is no chance. And it is not in their best interests.


No chance because of the EEC’s position?


Yes, there would be no international support. Then you would have 20 new states in a year. That would be something really disastrous for the European idea.


What has the Association of Democratic Initiatives done in addition to preparing ground for elections?


There was the political level: constitution, elections, human rights. Then there was the social policy which was quite a problem because of economic problems. Then there was a kind of anti-patriarchal policy–in the family, women, children–which had something to do with tradition. The fourth level was intercultural relations between ethnic groups in Yugoslavia.


I understand that Croatia is quite Catholic.


75 per cent of Croats, according to tradition, are Catholic. But many of them aren’t anymore. They all have Catholic origin. 70 per cent of the people who are religious are Catholic.


How then did the anti-patriarchal program go over in such a society?


There is a movement now in Slovenia and Croatia for more children. Because Croatia and Slovenia have zero population growth. In Kosovo, the Albanians have a relatively high level of population growth. They are against contraception because they want to have propaganda for more children. There were some parties in the elections in Croatia which said that any mother who had four or more children should have an average salary as some kind of bonus as a mother who is doing something for Croatia.


Like the Mother of the Soviet Union!


Yes, Mother of Croatia.


What were the elements of the anti-patriarchal program?


There were some women’s groups which organized SOS telephone for women who have been beaten. Groups who helped with legal support during divorces. When we had such a high level of inflation, the problem was with the money that the husbands had to paid to the wives – because it had to be changed every month and the courts couldn’t do that as quickly as possible. So they had to organize legal and social help for that. Then the critique of the school system was an important issue. And the critique of the authoritarian tendencies in the working environment some of which were based on those elementary family tendencies. Because there was a tradition that whole families came into the factories or institution and then would have some kind of clientelism controlling the situation using self-management organs and so on.


Is the Association essentially composed of intellectuals?


Yes. We were never a mass organization. We have 7 or 8000 members in the whole of Yugoslavia.


Have there been attempts to make contact with groups that are not intellectual?


Yes, of course. Especially in Belgrade, there was quite a coordination with trade unions. In Split as well. And in Kosovo.


What are the relations between Moslems and non-Moslems in Yugoslavia?


It’s going to be a problem but it is not a problem already. I mean, it is a problem in everyday life. But as a political problem, it has been used as part of Serbian propaganda against Kosovo. Although the Moslem element is not the major importance in Kosovo right now. It will be a problem in Bosnia and in Macedonia but after the elections when we will see how the people respond to the nationalist or religious parties or the Yugoslav parties. There is a big party, SDA – Democratic Alliance of Moslems in Bosnia – and they hope to get all the Moslems with them. But some Moslems still feel themselves Serbs as Croats and only Moslems by religion. And some feel Moslem ethnically. So it will be a problem but not one of the more important problems in Yugoslavia.


Is there a big difference in the standard of living between the two populations?


No. Not really.


And the issue of Yugoslav guestworkers in Europe?


We still have nearly 1 million Yugoslavs in Western Europe: 800,000, maybe. Out of 23 million in Yugoslavia. It began in 1965 after the economic reform. The first wave came mostly from Croatia. The second wave was from Serbia. The third wave from Kosovo. The Croats are going back now. The Serbs and Albanians are still mostly there.




  1. “This democracy we were fighting so much for, when we have more or less achieved it, many people think of it as just bourgeois democracy that doesn’t solve social problems. It’s criminally disinterested in social problems.”

    I really enjoyed this blog and the quotation above rang true to my ears!

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