Peace by peaceful means (Book launch)

By Johan Galtung

December 2009 – Foreword to Serbian edition of Peace By Peaceful Means.

Let me first express my deep gratitude to Professor Radmila Nakarada and her colleagues for this Serbian edition of my book Peace By Peaceful Means.  And let me then try to say something about the message of the book for the conflict over Yugoslavia, a country I still love, well knowing its sustainability was limited.  And that will be done from the four angles of the four parts of the book: peace, conflict, development and civilization.

Peace has direct, structural and cultural conditions, and Yugoslavia had many components. There was a terrible history of direct violence related to the German-Italian attacks and some cooperation with the attackers, particularly in Croatia, BiH and Kosovo. There was never any real conciliation, hoping that time will mend the wounds, that they were “quits”.  Instead they were reopened, and new wounds added.  Direct peace was not achieved.

Structurally there have probably been few places in the world with so many efforts, federal and confederal, to arrive at equitable relations.  But the level of equity was held up against history, and found wanting.  Small issues were magnified.  Autonomy was increasingly interpreted as independence from Beograd, in the Yugoslav northwest and northeast.

Culturally there was more than traditional nationalism involved.  History cast the Serbs in the role of defenders against the Ottomans, with the iconic role of Kosovo Polje 1389.  Croatia developed its own self-image and put the Serbs in a similar role (Krajina).  There were chosen peoples, promised lands.

Maybe particularly pronounced among Serbs, seeing their history in terms of defeat-retreat-return, with many repetitions of that drama in three acts.  All over violence – but also peaceful relations! – is written in the history of the former Yugoslavia.

With such processes and permanents as a background, events easily convert structural and cultural potentials for violence into direct violence.  But what events?  Some say the death of Tito in 1980.  I wold be more inclined to say the death of the Cold war in 1990, starting late 1989.

Yugoslavia as a construction lost some of the raison d’être – so well made use of by the Tito regime – and let me mention one person in particular I hold in very fond memory: Leo Mates, to whom I dedicate this Serbian edition. He worked incessantly, both on the East-West (nonalignment!) and the North-South conflict with Yugoslavia as a model. There were many, many others, like Branco Horvath, and in his own way Gajo Petrovic. And Mihajlo Markovic.

So, hell broke loose, starting at the Slovenian border to Italy against some Serbian guards.  The Yugoslavia of 1918 did not have enough sustainability to be viable.  The centrifugal forces outdid the centripetal ones.  Breaking up was inevitable. But that raises questions: into what?  And how do the new parts relate?

The sentiments, the driving forces, were national-cultural, but the pieces were territorial. Slovenia, never an independent state, proved to be the least problematic being close to a nation-state with one nation.  For the other republics this was not the case, mildly speaking; they were all multinational.

Conflict: the incapability, one might even say incompetence, of outer and inner forces to solve this up to the present, was and is remarkable. I always found the Serbian position acceptable: Yugoslavia is not tenable, but we shall never submit to the forces in Zagreb, Sarajevo and Pristina that killed us during World War II.

Highly understandable, yes, but not to the outside world that still believed that Croatia was only Croats – even after that was precisely where major violence broke out.  Ridden by the idea of self-determination according to uti possidetis, the borders, like in Africa, should remain the same, no second round; thereby also protecting themselves – France, England etc. – against any precedent used by similar movements in their own countries.

A possible solution would have been a federal construction for Croatia (and Serbia); for BiH (a historical impossibility anyhow) that the Croatian part becomes a part of Croatia, that Republika Srpska becomes independent, and BiH a city-state centered on Sarajevo; and for Kosovo independence but as a federation with very high autonomy for Serbian cantons, encased in a community of Serbia-Kosovo/a-Albania.  One vision, among others.

But all such conflict resolutions were ignored and not only by outside actors; leaving enough potential for violence for decades, generations to come. The prognosis is dark.

Development was a key underlying factor.  Yugoslavia under Tito had gone through many stages from close to the Soviet model to something that may be called left-wing social democracy.  The Yugoslavia I knew best as Director General of the Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik 1973-77 – used by Zagreb for an independent Croatian intellectual foreign policy against my protest and final resignation – was a well administered country with neither riches nor misery, with much public space like beaches.

Today, under the sway of the Western neo-liberal model inequality and privatization are rampant, like in Eastern Europe generally.  “Modernization”, yes, much of it to be welcomed and unlikely under more state-run regimes.  The balance is in favor of the Western model that bombed so many state factories in the war in 1999.

To impose the neo-liberal model was, of course, a key goal of the West, and it played into, and made use of, the intra-Serbian conflict between Titoists and Cetniks. No doubt there will be a reaction, particularly now that the built-in crises of the neo-liberal system are there for everybody to see.

Civilization plays a key role.  Western civilization, of which the components of Yugoslavia are parts, has a very bad track record of violence.  True, there has been some institution-building recently, most importantly the European Union as a partly brilliant piece of peace engineering from 1950 on. The parts of Yugoslavia will eventually find their place, but hopefully as federations, not as anything like unitary states.

There is a yearning for a peace culture that could come in and to Europe, and one day even to the by far most belligerent part of the West and the world: the United States of America, buoyed by NATO governmental solidarity. The war on Yugoslavia was a part of that exercise.

We have a long way to go for peace. The book is an effort to spell out some of the roads, with some of the hurdles.  Peace by Peaceful Means is possible, but like “growth with a life in dignity for all”, it is not easy.  Within our civilizational framework.


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