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Academic Vladimir Kostić, SANU President

Memorandum II Is A Plain Lie

How many embittered criticisms of the Memorandum I’ve heard from people (not rarely foreigners) who would later admit timidly that they hadn’t read it or had merely glanced over it. That memorandum was cast over SANU like an opaque shroud, so for a long time, unforgivably long, it wasn’t possible to see what was actually happening under that shroud… In short, Memorandum 2 is a plain lie, a fabrication or… But let me avoid approaching the realm of conspiracy theories, which to me, irrevocably intoxicated by our reality, seem probable – it is a lie, but not one without a plan and evil intentions ~ Vladimir Kostić

Despite the folks at SANU saying that they’ve “gone hoarse” attempting to explain the backstory to the “Memorandum case”, that document – often cited as a key reference to the “Greater Serbia” policy – remains a source of inspiration for political debate today almost four decades after it first appeared. The “Memorandum Case” recently received a new twist, with Sarajevo politicians alleging that, apart from the original 1986 document, there is a new “Memorandum 2”, which provides a more detailed elaboration of Serbia’s secret political plans in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Speaking in this interview for CorD Magazine, SANU President Vladimir Kostić rejects the allegations of Bosnia’s chief of diplomacy. He considers “intensive cultural, scientific, political and economic links with Republika Srpska”, alongside sincere work on improving relations with B-H, an obligatory matter and not choice.

You are entering into the major project of reconstructing SANU Palace in Knez Mihailova Street. How will that great edifice look two years from now, by which time the works should have been completed?

The monumental building of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Knez Mihajlova Street was designed in 1912 by architects Andra Stevanović and Dragutin Đorđević. However, it was only completed in 1924. The Academy was located in Brankova Street from 1909 to 1952, in a building that no longer exists – it was demolished in 1963, in accordance with our talent for preserving fragile lineages of tradition. SANU’s address at 35 Knez Mihajlova Street has only been valid since 1952.

This is one of the most interesting and, as a layman I would dare to say, most beautiful of Belgrade buildings. Tourists very often enter SANU’s entrance lobby areas spontaneously, filming and seeking explanations. To be malicious, I’ve often sensed jealousy in our foreign guests’ sub-questions about the building itself. The last more serious reconstruction was more than half a century ago – and the building is also aging, admittedly not as quickly as those within it. In the few years prior to the Covid outbreak, 150,000-200,000 people visited the building and attended the programmes offered. Reconstruction, which also included contributions of our architect members, especially academic Milan Lojanica, should ensure the even greater functionality of the existing spaces, to additionally accentuate the openness of this house. A special new addition, we hope, will be a multipurpose hall in the building’s central area. I would also mention that, even without that hall, SANU hosts over 70 concerts annually.

We have solid assurances that reconstruction will happen, and I would add that not only for the sake of SANU, but rather also that of Belgrade and Serbia. The only thing I’m a little sceptical about is the deadline of two years, and I’m saddened by the fact that I most likely won’t personally experience the new version of SANU Palace.

During your term as SANU president, you’ve repeatedly heard recommendations that the time has come to modernise the functional form of the Academy, to possibly break the mould and take on new sciences and areas in which people are achieving significant results. How are discussions progressing on the degree of “conservatism” required in the Academy?

Why are the people in literally all national academies seasoned veterans? Well, it’s for the simple reason that determining and confirming the worth of someone’s contributions takes time, almost as a rule. Much of what I’ve dubbed the “desirable conservatism” of SANU, and which seems to me to apply to all national academies, consists of caution and patience. I can immediately hear the justified criticism that this is a double-edged sword and that mistakes can be even greater when caution and patience are overexaggerated.

I suppose there are many of those who think being a politician represents the greatest success in life, or, a rung lower, being considered as a “potential politician” – I can’t force anyone to believe me, but I don’t think that way!

Discussions of this issue have been ongoing at SANU since 2016. A Members Conference was held there a month or two ago, which considered the future pathways of our house, with the now already excessively repeated and seemingly paradoxical motto that “only one who is ready to change himself has the right to count on continuity and tradition”. It should not go unrecorded that, in the department under the new name of the Department of Arts, we have enabled and implemented the receiving of creative workers from areas of art that weren’t admitted into SANU until recently, that scientists from the field of IT technologies have been selected, that changes to the organisational structure are being considered etc. Within SANU there are also those who think the pendulum has swung too far away from that “desirable conservatism” from the beginning of the question.

Deputy Prime Minister Zorana Mihajlović once criticised you – as the Academy and you personally, as its head – for not contributing enough to the affirming of women in science. Should there be more room for women in SANU?

Firstly, it’s easy and relatively harmless to direct criticism in the direction of SANU, and also its individual members, even when you know little about the subject of criticism or when you really know nothing about it, and there have been such cases. That doesn’t mean that SANU should be exempt from criticism. The criticism to which you are referring was made a few days after the SANU Executive Board announced publicly that, due to the fact that no female candidate was elected, the results of the elections in this house were “simply indefensible”! All the more so because these elections included candidates with exceptional scientific and artistic qualities, in the most general sense of the word and the broadest hierarchal criteria. As for my own responsibility, and the consequences of such responsibility, that is the smallest problem. It can be launched easily, and academics know that.

We hide no thing! At this moment, SANU has only 13 female members (10% of the workforce) and as many as three of the eight departments have only male members. And this grotesque disproportion is actually the answer to your last question. There is also no justification in the fact that the situation is similar in many European national academies. It is up to SANU itself to create appropriate preconditions for this situation to be overcome (such efforts have been made, and not only a few, but those activities proved unsuccessful) – it would be no less erroneous to seek that SANU select members according to gender proportional representation or lists.

SANU has shown great interest in the concerns of citizens regarding environmental issues. This was particularly evident in two current cases: the construction of mini-hydropower plants in areas of protected nature and the Jadar project. Are you prepared to continue activities in this area?

It’s apparent that we’ll be arguing until the end of the interview! You talk about current cases, minihydro power plants and the Jadar project, while you forgot, for example, SANU’s role in deliberating the exploitation of nickel, genetically modified food, problems with water etc. etc. Fortunately, monographs dedicated to these problems have remained as a kind of body of evidence and trace of our activities. These activities are conducted in continuity through the work of our committees (e.g., the one dedicated to conserving our nature and environment). Therefore, the question of our preparedness is somewhat strange – scientific observation of these problems has long been our choice and direction of uninterrupted activity. But we either weren’t sufficiently vocal and convincing, or there weren’t enough of those who needed and were able to hear us.

The Academy is sometimes criticised for its perceived lack of connection precisely with topics that aren’t explicitly science or high art. It seems that your efforts, as SANU president, have moved in the direction of also opening the Academy up to discussions that are significant to everyday life, such as public health issues, diabetes, the consequences of Covid etc.

You’d be surprised by the data on what was done and achieved by SANU presidents who preceded me, in whose footsteps I’m trying to follow, but we are indeed focused primarily on the determinants contained our name: sciences and arts. Even if we commit ourselves to “adjoining issues”, we are dutybound to do so on the basis of scientific and artistic methodologies and criteria.

And for a start, in order to even know about all that SANU does, I will ask you to visit the SANU website once a week and check out the programme. You’ll be surprised!

You were mentioned in the leadup up to April’s elections as a possible presidential candidate. Meanwhile, some of your colleagues supported the candidacy of Aleksandar Vučić. Have you grown accustomed to the fact that politics is inextricably linked to SANU?

And to whom – as individual or institution – isn’t politics inextricably linked? A person is, in a way, also linked to that which he claims to be escaping or uninterested in. It was crystal clear to me from the very beginning, and I’ve been at SANU since the year 2000, that academics have the most varied political views, probably as a reflection of the differences that exist in our society. If I’d advocated for the right to one’s own opinion, which they denied me radically, with what right would I deny others their right to think differently, and to express that freely? I must state with great joy that SANU members have on multiple occasions remained consistent with the ideas of autonomy and the integrity of personal opinion, as well as the right to express that opinion. And, of course, that passed unnoticed.

As for SANU, the only two institutions named as strategic partners in its Statute are Matica Srpska and the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Republika Srpska. And we have been sincerely committed to that!

I’ve denied my own political presidential “career” many, many times, and even laughed it off – but I evidently wasn’t believed. I suppose there are many of those who think being a politician represents the greatest success in life, or, a rung lower, being considered as a “potential politician” – I can’t force anyone to believe me, but I don’t think that way!

The Academy was recently compelled to respond to claims that it had produced another Memorandum, and that this second part contained guidelines to implement the “Greater Serbia” project in Bosnia-Herzegovina. What do you think about such provocation directed against SANU in the public address of the B-H Foreign Minister Bisera Turković, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the outbreak of war in Sarajevo?

We’ve gone hoarse in attempting to explain the circumstances surrounding the “Memorandum Case” of 1986. It’s not that we want to force someone to think differently, but rather that, if they do think, they should think on the basis of the facts, which we are always ready to discuss and hear other people’s opinions. How many embittered criticisms of the Memorandum I’ve heard from people (not rarely foreigners) who would later admit timidly that they hadn’t read it or had merely glanced over it. That memorandum was cast over SANU like an opaque shroud, so for a long time, an unforgivably long time, it wasn’t possible to see what was actually happening under that shroud. But that was already explained precisely and in detail by the late academic Predrag Palavestra in his article “Naked Fact”. However, that also only interested a few.

In short, Memorandum 2 is a plain lie, a fabrication or… But let me avoid approaching the realm of conspiracy theories, which to me, irrevocably intoxicated by our reality, seem probable – it is a lie, but not one without a plan and evil intentions. After all, the story of Memorandum 2, and even 3, wasn’t started by Mrs Bisera Turković. Disgracefully!

The issue of Republika Srpska’s position within the B-H Federation has compebecome current in recent days, in light of the sanctions against President Željka Cvijanović and Presidency member Milorad Dodik. You once said that this issue interests you because Republika Srpska has “a serious, active, culturally and scientifically engaged part of the nation of one and a half or two million people”. How would you answer the question that’s often posed to Serbian officials relating to the correct measure of connectivity between the Republic of Serbia and Republika Srpska?

First a slight digression. In conversations with colleagues from Republika Srpska, I discovered that it’s no longer a question of “a million and a half ”, that is to say that Republika Srpska has also fallen victim to the pan-Balkan scenario of demographic decline – and that’s a particularly painful issue.

I’m not an apologist for any policy, but the current administration in Serbia doesn’t bring into question the integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina and its founding principles. Maintaining intensive cultural, scientific, political and economic links with Republika Srpska, and in parallel also working sincerely to improve good neighbourly relations with B-H, is an obligatory matter and not choice. Of course, this is a two-way street.

As for SANU, the only two institutions named as strategic partners in its Statute are Matica Srpska and the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Republika Srpska. And we have been sincerely committed to that!

In the fierce controversy that you sparked at the very start of your SANU mandate by expressing your stance on the fate of Kosovo, you stressed that Serbia would have to fight “tooth and nail” for that which represents the cultural, historical and psychological foundations of Serbia in Kosovo. How would you comment on Priština’s attempts – seemingly aided by the international community – to find a compromise on this cultural and historical heritage by calling it Kosovan instead of Serbian?

As things tend to repeat in my experience, this interview is also being slowly flooded with political questions. As such, I am, as a political illiterate, forced to repeat that every political statement made in this interview is my private and completely personal statement, as a citizen informed to the average extent, and can in no way be connected with SANU.

But let me return to your question! This is about aggressive and poorly disguised hypocrisy. This is rather a violent change of cultural, ethnic and religious context in one territory than it is any kind of “compromise”?

This “geopolitical crossroads”, as you call it, is perhaps the biggest tectonic shift in Europe during the last 60-70 years, and to me, as a layman, it seems to be even bigger than the fall of the Berlin Wall. The creation of grotesque divisions is underway, but also stronger integrations

At SANU we’re attempting to use various activities to impact on these particular issues. Partly by promoting our heritage in Kosovo and Metohija (KiM) (just to remind readers of the capital exhibition and monograph covering our cultural and artistic heritage in KiM, the upcoming exhibition and accompanying texts about Gračanica being prepared for the end of 2022, as well as a study on demographic movements on that territory, and much, much more). We had a conference a few months ago on international modalities for preserving these values in KiM, attended by dozens of compebecome tent lecturers. An anthology of their works will soon be published. Those wanting to hear had something to hear – those wanting to read will have something to read. And learn!

You’ve noted that you consider the EU pathway as being the most rational for Serbia. In light of the war in Ukraine, we’ve once again heard discussion of the need for Serbia to make a clear commitment to the EU, which implies distancing itself from Russia, and on the other hand, with the EU possibly deciding to speed up the accession process for the countries of the Western Balkans. How do you see that geopolitical crossroads?

As an individual, I haven’t changed my mind. This “geopolitical crossroads”, as you call it, is perhaps the biggest tectonic shift in Europe during the last 60-70 years, and to me, as a layman, it seems to be even bigger than the fall of the Berlin Wall. The creation of grotesque divisions is underway, but also stronger integrations. I fear that, surprised and confused, with the ideologizing of the problem of Buridan’s ass, we will become European loners.

I believe that the decisions that will be made, if they aren’t already being made, cannot be left down to one man, one party, one segment of society – these are those moments in history when it is necessary to resort to the informed (I insist, informed!) division of responsibility for possible decisions between political actors, organisations, institutions and individuals with something relevant to say on this issue.

CONSERVATISM

Much of what I’ve dubbed the “desirable conservatism” of SANU, and which seems to me to apply to all national academies, consists of caution and patience

COMPROMISE

This is about aggressive and poorly disguised hypocrisy. This is rather a violent change of cultural, ethnic and religious context in one territory than it is any kind of “compromise”

GEOPOLITICAL CROSSROADS

I fear that, surprised and confused, with the ideologizing of the problem of Buridan’s ass, we will become European loners

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