A war-resister combining social research with peace action in Belgrade


By Metta Spencer (interviewer)

METTA SPENCER: Tell me about the peace groups in the former Yugoslavia.

STJEPAN GREDELJ: We know something of what is happening in other parts of former Yugoslavia, though communication is cut off, for example between Belgrade and Zagreb. We have e-mail so we can communicate with our colleagues in France, Croatia and Slovenia.

SPENCER: Can you get in touch with people in Bosnia also?

GREDELJ: Ah, that's very hard! I personally don't have connection with my friends in Bosnia. I don't know whether they have survived this horrible war. There are some NGOs in Croatia and Serbia. The name of one is the Anti-War Campaign. It was from Zagreb but has branches in Dalmatia, Osijek, and elsewhere. And on the Serbian side of the border there's the Center for Anti-War Action, which now is called the Center for Peace Actions, in Belgrade. There is an independent peace movement in Pancevo, a town about 10 miles from Belgrade, and a branch of the Center For Anti-War Action in Novi Sad, the capital of Vojvodina. There is an excellent common program of Belgrade and Zagreb at the moment to try to repatriate refugees to Pakrac, a little town in western Slovonia-in Croatia. It has very great symbolic meaning because the war in Croatia started in that town of 50,000 inhabitants. Refugees fled on both sides, and now the town is split into Serbian and Croatian parts. So the idea is to get refugees from both sides to try to negotiate, and start a possible reconciliation. On the Croatian side much more is being done. Some people have returned there and others are trying to rebuild their houses. They have support from international peace activists. On the Serbian side, unfortunately, it's under the power of the government and they are not interested. We tried several times to go see what was going on there but they didn't let us in. The local Serbian authorities were not interested in reconciliation. Pakrac is under the control of the so-called "Serbian Republic of Krajina." That's the problem.

SPENCER: Which groups are you personally closest to?

GREDELJ: I co-operate with this Center for Anti-War Action, but I'm more interested in a research approach to the problem, so I can't work much in the field. On the other hand, though, in July 1991 the Yugoslavian army tried to mobilize me for civil war and I resisted. I'm one of the first people in Serbia who became war resisters. I've stayed there and until now nothing has happened to me, but I suppose some day they could remember all the facts.

SPENCER: What's the worst that can happen?

GREDELJ: Until now nobody has been prosecuted because that army, the Yugoslav National Army, which was the federal army, doesn't exist anymore. Now it's the Army of Yugoslavia and it's ethnically "clean." Serbs and Montenegrins are the majority in that army. And the federal state which could put us on trial doesn't exist anymore, so we are in a peculiar situation.

The least thing that could happen is that I could go to jail for one month. The worst thing is that I could go to jail for 10 years. No, the very worst thing would be capital punishment. I don't know what the law is now.

SPENCER: How many people are doing what you are doing?

GREDELJ: There are estimates that about 200,000 people in Serbia and 150,000 in Croatia refused to participate in the civil war.

SPENCER: That seems to be a loaded word. I remember an awful fight with Marko Hren about that. I made the mistake of using the word "civil war." That ended our friendship.

GREDELJ: It could be defined as a civil war, or as uncivilized war, or as a savage war. It could be defined as a religious war.

SPENCER: I believe the logic was that if you talk about a civil war, it implies that both sides are equally responsible. They wanted to speak of it as a war of aggression, of one state against another, which would put it into a different category as far as international law goes.

GREDELJ: I've also had such discussions with my colleagues from Slovenia and Croatia. One could agree with some of their arguments, but, on the other hand, it was at first some kind of internal clash in a still unified, country so aggression against a state is very hard to prove.

In Serbia you can find people who consider it a rebellion against the state because Slovenia and Croatia were part of Yugoslavia. In their view, "they were nothing but rebels." So these are extreme positions. The truth is somewhere in between, that Yugoslavia was in the process of dissolution. We have the example of Czechoslovakia, whose people found a way to do it peacefully.

SPENCER: The break-up of Czechoslovakia was not democratic.

GREDELJ: But it was peaceful.

SPENCER: Yes, but it was a tragedy; most people there thought so. It would not have passedif there had been a referendum.

GREDELJ: In these former socialist countries, which are now disappearing, people are not asked whether they would like to live together. You didn't hear of a referendum in Czechoslovakia and you didn't hear of one in Yugoslavia. But I heard the results of one sociological research project conducted before the war in 1989. It was done on former Yugoslavia on a big sample of 70,000 respondents one year before the war started, on the question, "Do you think that each nation in Yugoslavia should have its own state?" Two-thirds responded "no." Only about 6% said "yes."

SPENCER: Milosovic was re-elected, so now public opinion must be behind him. Am I mistaken?

GREDELJ: Not mistaken, but some things should be explained. Yes, he was re-elected, but I can't say that the majority of people support him. We have a very specific electoral system in Serbia, which was created to serve the interests of one party and of the Serbian president. These recent 1993 elections show that 64% of the population voted for opposition parties and only about 36% voted for Milosovic, but we have some kind of proportional electoral system and Serbia is divided into nine electoral units. Belgrade and its area is one electoral unit. It has about 1,600,000 voters, and 46 representatives to parliament.

On the other hand, Kosovo has about two million inhabitants. The ethnic Albanians there boycott the elections because they want independence for Kosovo. So the only people who voted in the elections in Kosovo are Montenegrins and Serbs, who are no more than 9% of the Kosovo population-about 100,000 persons, and they elected 26 representatives.

SPENCER: So it's all rigged.

GREDELJ: Yes. And if you have control of the press, too-SPENCER: How free is the press in Serbia?

GREDELJ: A hard question. My colleagues and I are finishing an international project comparing the media impact on the war situation in Serbia/ Croatia/Slovenia, including media from Austria, Germany, Canada and so on. Edith Klein joined the project in Canada to investigate the coverage in the Canadian media-The Globe and Mail, especially-of the war. We have found that the media created the situation for the war in Yugoslavia, even more than politicians. The politicians followed the media.

In this area I can specifically discuss only Serbia, not Slovenia and Croatia, because of broken communications. The official radio and broadcasting system is controlled by the ruling party. If you could cut off Milosovic's regime from the influence of television, the situation would be very different after six months. Especially for the opposition.

On the other hand we have some independent media systems: TV, radio and especially printed media-one of the print ones is a weekly known as Vreme, which means Time. In 1990, before the elections in Serbia, Television Studio B was established. It was an extension of existing Radio Studio B, which was established 20 years before, as a semi-commercial radio station. The independence of Studio B is very strong because they don't depend on financial support from the state. Several private entrepreneurs invested money in equipment. They survive on advertising and on support from the Soros Foundation. Mr. George Soros of New York is funding independent media and other important projects in Eastern Europe.

The other important feature of the media situation in Serbia which could lead towards democratization is the radio broadcasting program B 92. Ten years ago B 92 was established as a university students' radio show. As time went on and crises increased, it became a voice of free public opinion in Serbia. If someone wants to say that he is telling the truth, he might say, "Listen, B 92!" They try to be objective and to give several sources, and they never give a conclusion to listeners. One of their slogans is, "Don't believe anybody, even us." Unfortunately, they are only on a frequency which is temporary. They were given it for a few years and then another few years but they are always in danger of being cut off.

But I don't think that even Milosovic's regime would dare to do that. Once they had an experiment which was like Orson Welles's "Invasion from Mars." They started broadcasting with, "B 92 is now forbidden and from now on their frequency will broadcast official television." They started with typical news and typical music and so on and their phone was ringing with angry people who were ready to start a revolution! One of them threw his radio through the window! And after five hours they said, "Okay, dear listeners. That was an experiment on your patience. Once more, don't believe anybody, even us!"

Peace Magazine May-Jun 1994

Peace Magazine May-Jun 1994, page 20. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Metta Spencer here

Peace Magazine homepage