On the Right Side of History

When Hitler launched his invasion of Poland on 1st September 1939, that was still a European conflict. With the previous implementation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, it was not yet a global conflict, despite Britain and France having declared themselves at war with Nazi Germany. That date was retroactively declared as marking the start of World War II, though the war perhaps realistically became a world war on 7th December 1941, with Japan’s Pearl Harbor attack

It is difficult today to determine whether the world is in a new 1939 or some other year. That will only be known retroactively, when the Russo-Ukrainian and Israel-Hamas wars receive a clearer historical position. The world is listing increasingly towards imperial techno-feudalism, but unlike the atmosphere in the build-up to World War II, there are today no great ideologies to be presented as cover, rather only the “clash of civilisations” (Huntington) and the exposed interests of the great powers or those that are on the rise, as was the case ahead of World War I.

Famous British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm popularised the thesis about the “long 19th century” that began with the French Revolution of 1789 and ended with the Sarajevo assassination of 1914 and the outbreak of WWI, or rather about the “short 20th century” that began with that Sarajevo assassination and ended with 1989’s fall of the Berlin Wall. And did the 21st century actually symbolically begin with the attacks of 11th September 2001?

Everyone wants to be on “the right side of history” in times like these, even though someone will once again demonstrate retroactively tomorrow, in accordance with the epilogues, who was really on the “right side” and how right the “right side” really was. Chinese leader Xi Jinping, speaking in an address at last summer’s BRICS forum, stressed that Beijing stands “on the right side of history”. And it was in June 2023 that Anatoly Antonov, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the U.S., declared that “Russia is on the right side of history”. U.S. President Barack Obama commended then German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s approach to the European refugee crisis of 2016, assessing that Merkel was “on the right side of history”. However, in his response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, Obama emphasised that Russia was on the wrong side of history, meaning that the U.S. was on the right side.

Serbia made huge sacrifices in order to be on the right side of history in the two world wars, while it wasn’t on that right side when Berlin Wall fell. And the country has yet to recover from the consequences of that decision

And here in our so-called Region (the ‘Yugosphere’, as Tim Judah coined it) there is plenty of talk about the “right side of history”. For example, it is a topic that Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković is obsessed with. U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Christopher Hill stated in 2023 that Serbia is still on the right side of history with regard to Ukraine (as Belgrade supported Ukraine’s territorial integrity), while Viola von Cramon, a German MEP and European Parliament rapporteur for Kosovo, expressed her doubts in that regard back in 2022, in commenting on Serbia’s Putinophily. Then Serbian Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin responded to her by pointing out that Serbia is on the right side of history, on the side of international law, as it had been in 1999 (the year of NATO aggression).

And everything began for us in Serbia back in February 2019, when then U.S. Ambassador Kyle Scott stated that Serbia was on the wrong side of history when it came to the crisis in Venezuela, because it supported Maduro the dictator, who doesn’t recognise Kosovo independence. The U.S. and major EU countries had then recognised as the acting president of Venezuela one Juan Guaidó, a man that hardly anyone remembers today.

When it comes to relations between Washington and Moscow, then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared in 2015 that Serbia (together with Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Georgia, Moldova and Transnistria) was in the “firing line”. So why not choose a side (?), as cynics tend to say.

Serbia made huge sacrifices in order to be on the right side of history in the two world wars, while it wasn’t on that right side when Berlin Wall fell. And the country has yet to recover from the consequences of that decision.


Slađana Prica, retired ambassador, member of the Forum for International Relations and honorary president of the UNA of Serbia

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