25 September 2003
Earlier this month in Beograd, Serbia, the former jugoslav capital, Svetozar Marović, the president of Serbia and Montenegro surprised the Croat president Stjepan Mesić by admitting national fault in the war after Croat secession. "I want to apologize for all the evils that any citizen of Serbia and Montenegro inflicted upon or committed against any citizen of Croatia." The architect of the war, Slobodan Milošević is imprisoned and on trial in Holland for crimes against humanity. Mesić then quickly reciprocated for his nation's wrongs against the Serbs. " I also apologize to all those who have suffered pain or damage at any time from citizens of Croatia who misused the law or abused their position. As I said, anywhere, any time." Outside observers had no clue that this would occur.
Milošević had caused several disastrous wars in the former multinational state. People died, suffered and lost their human dignity, their homes and many their humanity. The Serbs, as did all the Balkan peoples, had suffered for centuries under the Turks and then in the german wars of this last century. The last of the former, brought about a multi-sided civil war in which the communists won with allied connivance. After a transnational pogrom that physically eliminated anyone who would not externally profess in the personal dictatorship of Tito, the newly reformed country settled in to an independent socialism. After Tito's death one sly, remorseless and conscienceless appartchnik, Milošević, amassed power by playing to Serb nationalism. The suppressed national desires and animosities yearned and churned to break out.
A series of wars broke out, NATO and the U.S. intervened, there was a Christmas bombing of Beograd and a partial occupation of Bosna and Kosovo. All these horrors are on the hands of Milošević and his cohorts, some who are still operating. Milošević made his nation seem as monsters to the world and every war he agitated and lost. The veneer of civilization on people is quite thin indeed and many people shared in actions.
That Croatian-Serb war ran from 1991 to 1995. Estimates of 20,000 dead and over a quarter million Serbs displaced from their homes in Croatia (national and ethnic borders are not the same), many still so, came from that one conflict in the wars of the break up of Jugoslavija.
An apology is a defense, a rationale. It is a word that is almost always misused in english. What these two presidents did was repentedly admit gross failings in national behavior to their brothers of another nation. No translation was necessary, they speak the same language, they were not talking of abstract hypotheses of psychic emotion but of physical blood and gore realities. The only thing we do not know is the level of sincerity involved.
What can strike us as remarkable, in America, is the very act of those words being spoken. George H. W. Bush took a boastful pride in the vow that he as president would not ever to say that America would be sorry for anything (one of the several matters was the wartime internment of japanese Americans, Clinton did not have that reluctance). And who can imagine similar words of admission to trip from George W. Bush's tongue.
What 'men' do is speak the truth. Alexander Isajevich Solzhenitsyn at the end of his Nobel acceptance speech said, "One word of truth outweighs the world." Earlier his compatriot Boris Leonidovich Pasternak had said, "In every generation there has to be some fool who will speak the truth as he sees it." We are all called to do this, why is it so unusual when it is done?