Science in Serbia

There is nothing extraordinary in the science in Serbia. It would not deserve particular attention of the European scientific community, if it were not for the fact that  the case of Serbia turns out extraordinary, indeed.

Let us start with an extraordinary question: would it be possible a state in contemporary Europe to sucumbe to a fashist rule (or  communist or any other totalitarian government)? The answer is extraordinary too – yes. The case in point is Serbia.

The trick is marked by Kosovo (see, e.g. P. Grujić, Kosovo Knot, 2014). When this southern province of Serbia, Kosovo and Metohia (Kosovo in the following) was occupied by NATO, after the military intervention in 1999, Serbia lost control over  this  region of a mixed ethnic population, mainly Slavonic, Albanian and Roma. By occupying the province NATO took control over the territory and SAD established a military base near Prishtina. About  40.000 corps  have been placed at Kosovo  (KFOR) . Formal status of Kosovo is UN protectorate under UNSCR 1244. After the occupation the overwhelming majority of non-Albanian population (Serbs, Croats, Roma, Montenegrins, Jews,  etc) left Kosovo. After that hundreds of thousand Albanians from Albania (and possibly Macedonia) settled into newly acquired territory. The population of the capital Prishtina raised from 200.000 to a number estimated to be well above 600.000. In 2008 Kosovo’s Parliament declared independence. Up to now 108 states recognized Kosovo as an independent state, with 23 from EU (out of 28), whereas 85  have not. Since then there has been enormous pressure on Belgrade government to recognize Kosovo independence, since it is such a recognition only which would substitute  the protectorate status of the occupied territory. (Situation appears similar to the Cyprus case, where the Turkey occupied part of the island, which cann’t be recognized as an independent state, since the Cyprus government refuses to do this).

In order to prevent an eventual treachery act of a Serbian government, the preamble of the Serbian constitution reads: „Kosovo and Metohia are integral parts of the state of Serbia.“ Before the overthrow of Milošević’s regime in 2000 it was Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and Šešelj’s Serbian Radical Party (SRP) who ruled Serbia, in a fashist style. Since majority of the electoral body prefered  the pro-European orientation, a group of MP Radicals separated from Šešelj’s SRS and founded a new party Serbian Advanced Party SAP), led by th former deputy and the present day president of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolic and the former general secretary and the present day prime minister Aleksandar Vučić. The new party retained all of the bagage of the original party, except for the new pro-Europen politics. In the next elections the coalition SAP and SPS lost the  election by a margin, but won the following round four years ago, by a margin too, and took over the government. And then an interesting phenomenon emerged on the Serbian political sene. The same people who agitated eagerly against EU a few year ago got the firm and steady support from the same EU. So much that  they became European favourites! The explanation for this quirk is simple – evidently a deal with EU was made: We support your governing Serbia (by whatever means) and you hand over Kosovo. As simple as that. So much for the political background.

What all this has to do with science? Much and nothing, depending on the way one looks at the prospects of the science as such in a society which undergoes serious social transformations. To appreciate the issue we compare the period under Milošević’s rule, and the present day situation.

Because of Serbian involvement in the Bosnian conflicts sanctions were imposed on Serbia in 1992, including the scientific sector. Serbia was banish from all scientific organizations, conferences, projects etc (see, e.g. P. Grujić, Physics World, June 1993; October 1994). Here we stress that Milošević and his regime were direct product of the Tito’s communist (sic) regime. Those who opposed his rule did it for two different reasons: some because he was communist and the other because he was not communist enough. This ideological determination is important to keep in mind when considering the present day Serbia.

In 1996 SRP, essentially fascist organization, joined the SPS (communists) and Serbia got a weird black and red ruling coalition. During this regime science and higher education were seriously damaged, (see, e.g. P. Grujić, Physics World, September 1998; Nature, 394, 20 August, 1998; Europhysics News, 30, No 1, 1999; Euroscience News, No 9, October 1999), with consequences still present, in particular in the science sector. When Milošević-Šešelj regime was overthrown in 2000, situation was much improved, but by 2012 election, when the red and black coalition took over the power, the devastation of the Serbian society was resumed. But this time with an almost incredible turn. While in 1990-ieth Serbia was punished via (or because of) Milošević’s regime, this time it suffers because the international community, mainly EU and USA, support the essentially the same red and black coalition. As we mentioned above – the quirk is called Kosovo. Here it is how it works.

It is a common practice when a new party wins the election and takes over the government, it replaces some old staff in the state institutions by its own members. The point of difference between the democratic and totalitarian regimes lies in the extent of the “reshuffling”. When Hitler took over German government he annihilated the previous state staff, replacing it by the Nazi members. By reconstructing the state institutional structure he established absolute control over Germany. Since Germany was one of great powers (at least potentially), it was crucial for Europe to prevent the establishment of Hitler’s regime. As we know, European great powers realized it too late, with consequences we know now. On the other hand Franco’s Spain did not present a threat to Europe and was left aside, and recognized by the European democratic states. After all, it is not an ideology which makes aggression, but people. There is nothing aggressive in the Christian ideology, but remember Crusades! Equally, communism is not aggressive by itself, but we recall Baltic States, Eastern Europe etc. Tito’s regime in Yugoslavia was not aggressive either (if we ignore the Trieste case), but was as brutal within Yugoslavia, as Hitler was generally. Moreover, Hitler had no internal enemies within Germany (apart from Jews and bicyclists), whereas Tito annihilated all Serbian people with the connections with the Royalists during the wartime, real or fictive ones.

What he did with Germany Hitler did the same with the rest of Europe, with consequences we know. But what about small countries like Serbia? A totalitarian regime may cause serious disturbances in the surrounding area, but it need not present global threats. Never-the-less, the continental community tries to rein the autocratic regime in order to spare the continent from unnecessary troubles, as the case with Milosevic was. But what if a totalitarian regime takes the power, but for some reasons does not threat the surrounding states? If, for instance the continental community sees the splitting of the state as guarantee for the peace, as the case with Serbia shows? What if this community supports the totalitarian government as long as it promises to deliver a part of the country as the price for its political survival? And what are the consequences for the internal sectors of the fascist states, like science? We shall try to answer these questions in the following.

But before we do this, a few words on a general subject about the state and law are in order. There might be good laws in a state of civilized subjects, bad laws in a state of high quality population, good laws and bad people and bad laws and bad men. Serbia is a candidate for EU and must fulfill a great number of internal and external regulations necessary for joining EU. It is in the process of doing it and we may assume that in the perspective Serbia has good laws. Does it mean the internal situation is improving from the human standpoint? Recall that Germany had during Hitler good laws (except, of course, those concerning Jews and bicyclists). Russia during Stalin, Chine during Mao Ze Dung, they had also good laws (after all they were internally stable societies). The trick lies in the way you tell the joke, as that joke about jokes says. The case in point is the now infamous Šešelj trial at the Hague Tribunal. The latter does not know what to do with this creature, for formally he did nothing against the positive law.  It reminds us on the difference between the criminal and satanic characters. One recalls the cases of Alkibiades in Athens, Catiline in Rome, Defoe’s Selkirk (known as Robinson Crusoe), and other creatures who were too clever to be caught in the net of the lawful society. After all it is the old tradition that Satan is cleverer than God, as Adam and Eve found themselves for their (mis)fortune in Eden.

Devastating terror  by Tito after the WW2 still bears its consequences in Serbia, and we now experience the similar process, albeit in a somewhat more subtle and perfidy form. The process of fascization of society is not directed by amateurs, since the political idol of the present Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, Vojislav Šešelj, did his PhD thesis entitled The Political Essence of Militarism and Fascism. Now we turn to the science under the new rulers.

What is the position of science in Serbia and how the new political establishment organizes scientific politics? First of all, they merged ministries for education and science into a unique Ministry for Education, Science and Technological development. The first consequence of such an arrangement, in the actual situation when every ministry shares a definite amount of money from the state budget, is that the scientific sector is placed into an inferior position vis-à-vis the educational one.  Because of its specific kind of activity, science is deprived of the primary means of protest, that of strike, unlike the educational sector. Nobody cares why you have not produced a sufficient number of papers, necessary for advancing on the professional ladders, whether you are lazy, incompetent or were striking in protest for the low salary, bad working conditions, insufficient funds etc.  Recently a five-month strike was going on in Serbian grammar and secondary schools, because the new government had lowered down the salaries for the teaching staff. If the strike succeeded, the amount of fund for the science would be used to satisfy demands of teachers and scientific researchers would pay the bill. What is even more damaging is the actual law reduces salaries (not only in the educational sector) from a fixed level upwards, what means that the middle class and upper (very thin) classes are particularly targeted. It is not by accident, of cause, for the present ruling government got hold of this position by the votes of the bottom of the social pyramid and relies on the support of the same social losers. The same holds for the pensions, which were recently reduced in a nonlinear way, with low pensions spared from the reduction, with the same rationale as for the salaries.

This promotion of the lower class population, albeit in an indirect way appears the direct outcome of the populist politics which some political movements pursue. This results in devastation of the upper levels of the social pyramid, with capable people leaving the country. Their positions in economics, science etc take over less competent professionals and the overall quality of the society suffers. We shall see now how it affects Serbian science.

Like other sectors in communist countries science has always been under the political grip. The researchers were divided into three classes: (i) political and military leaders and their offspring; (ii) ordinary Party members; (iii) the rest of the scientific community (second rank citizens). Scientific institutes have been founded whose skeletons are tightly controlled by the Party, though they were open to all capable young people. Generally, those not Party members have the status of Athenian metoikoi, though formally all citizens “are equal”, as Orwell would put it. Those “second rank citizen” scientists could advance their scientific status, could become member of the Academy of Science and Arts, are eligible to be awarded a medal for their achievements, but they could not be directors of the research institutions, deans of the university, ministers for science, MP, member of the government etc.  And this was exactly the status Athenians non-citizens, like Aristotle had. With one essential difference: Aristotle was deprived of the political rights because he was not born Athenian, whereas the majority of the Serbian ruling class came from the regions outside Serbia, west from the river Drina (so-called Dinaroids). This appears the direct outcome of the wartime history: Tito occupied Serbia in 1944/5 bringing his partisans from the western region of Yugoslavia – Croatia and Bosnia – over river Drina. In an elite Serbian research institute, for example, entire administrative staff, including the general manager, is recruited from the Dinaric population.  During Milošević regime the majority of the scientific staff was against his autocratic rule, but officially the same institute provided full support to Milošević’s politics.

Before we attempt to describe the present situation, a parallel between the postwar Serbia and Serbia under the rule of the SAP and SPS seems in order. All democratic societies appear the same more or less, but dictatorship differs from case to case, better to say from dictator to dictator. After WWII Yugoslavia was the victim of Titoism, just as SSSR suffered from Stalinism. It is wrong to ascribe a particular social or political system which describes single-person rule. Tito was one of the richest men in the entire world, living in a royal palace, whose appanage required the labour of a great deal of Yugoslavs. Never-the-less he called himself a communist, as did his cronies, too. Further, as some political systems have been demonized, often for good reason, those autocrats who introduce any of these are very careful not to reveal the essence of their autocracy that could be classified as fascism, for instance. It is the case of the present day Serbia. This is important to stress since it is essential for the external perception of what is going on in a country which applies for the EU membership.

It was Šešelj’s SRP and Milošević’s SPS who organized military interventions of their paramilitary forces in Croatia and Bosnia. Now, the government and Parliament consist of the members of the same parties, whose only common aim is to keep power, by convincing the Europe they are pro-European politicians. The fact to stress here is that the leaders of EU are well aware of this, what makes them accomplices of a dirty, though tacit, conspiracy, whose aims are (i) to recognize Kosovo and (ii) to pay it by  allowing fascization of Serbia.

Every political revolution implies turning over the social pyramid: It is the bottom of the social structure which holds the upper hand (inverted pyramid). In a somewhat exaggerated terms, the social scum emerges on the top of the political organization. We have seen it at the French revolution, Russian October revolution (which was, in fact, rather a counter-revolution), Hitler’s revolution, Tito’s ”revolution” etc. A sort of social revolution is going on in Serbia, with the difference that this time it is led by intruders from over Drina river, Dinaroids, like Šešelj, Vučić and the offspring of the ruling class from Tito’s time. What the ongoing fascization is making unique, is the fact that it is carried out with the tacit approval of the EU leaders. How is it being done?

In the process of accommodating the internal administrative structures with the European standards, Serbia is required to make a number of changes in the juridical and other state sectors. One of the requirements is the reduction of the public sector staff. Now the government fires a considerable number of state employees, with a great publicity and is consequently awarded by commends from the EU leaders. What is much less publicized is that ruling parties members are employed at the posts of the expelled ones. The final number of employees may even be larger than before. Actual situation may be now even worse, but government enjoys the support of the “international community”, what means that her ruling position is ever stable after each of the Serbia’s “fulfillments” of demands from the external factors. This sort of “cooperation” works very well.

Another example is the Serbian constitution. Its preamble, as mentioned above, prevents recognizing Kosovo province as an independent state. Now the government, more precisely premier Vučić, plans to reduce the number of MP “for the economic reasons”. He will then delete the “fang” of the opposition and smoothly proclaim the recognition of Kosovo.

The strategy of taking absolute control over the country, exercised by the government is applied at all lower levels of the society, a sort of fractal structure, as elaborated elsewhere (P. Grujić, Euroscience News, No 9, October 1999, pp. 4-5). Just as Hitler eliminated all other parties after taking over power, the present ruling quasi-communist and semi-fascist coalition has succeeded in reducing the opposition to a symbolic presence, starting from the republic level down to the smallest municipal ones.

How it works at research centers? We take as illustration an institute which happens to be regarded the elite scientific institution in Serbia. New management was formed with the members predominantly from a single, recently founded research unit. New recruits to the institute were taken predominantly to this department, at the expense of the other laboratories, whose staff is constantly diminishing. Further, there was a practice in the institute that retired researchers could continue to do research at the institute and may be engaged in all other activities. One of the first steps taken by the new management was to: (i) kick out the retired colleagues, who constitute the backbone of the research and some of them working in the institute since its founding (1961). They are deprived not only of making use of their offices, but also of the common space like the seminar rooms etc.  As senior staff these people were pioneers in their fields, running seminars and other things at the state levels. They are forbidden even to organize symposia and other scientific meeting. The management even did not bother to inform these senior staff in person, but did it by e-mail circular letters.

The management abolished the highest scientific board and founded new one, with a restricted number of members, with new members chosen according the general policy of eliminating possible opposition to the “new order”. Thus, just as Serbia is becoming ”single party state”, some scientific institutes  are becoming ”single laboratory research centers”.

Transition from a (quasi) liberal society to the totalitarian regime is always accompanied by a spontaneous corruption passing to the state organized one. We have seen this phenomenon with Hitler, Stalin and Tito, when the very partition of the political power was a well organized corruption. At the present state of transition from a quasiliberal to the semitotalitarian regime Serbia appears in a mixed state. Practically it means that the political positions are misused to acquire individual gains which otherwise on would never achieve in a legal way. High rank politicians who failed to graduate at a faculty obtain university diploma at the departments which did not exist before, to be abolished after politicians ”graduate”. At one of the private universities, whose dean claimed to got his PhD at LSE (what passed unnoticed by the school administration), government members obtain PhD diplomas for conspicuous plagiarism. Opposition made much noise about one drastic case with a minister, but in vane. It is expected that soon all members of the government will be in possession of PhD diplomas and Serbia will be proud to have the most educated government in Europe.

What is the actual situation in Serbia now and in particular in science is difficult to estimate, since the regime manipulates with numbers and provides various estimates at different occasions, often contradictory ones. Once one faces a totalitarian regime majority of criteria fail to help. The additional trouble with Serbia is the fact that the overwhelming majority of the ruling regime, at all levels, come from the area across river Drina, where different ethics hold. Cheating, stilling and similar asocial acts appear there as a sign of the natural wit to be appreciated. Those people do not consider Serbia as homeland, but rather as occupied country, convenient to plunder.

What future for science in Serbia may be expected? Under the present conditions, just as the middle class is being devastated by the new rulers, the average level science will continue to provide standard research results. As for the high-level science Serbians (nota bene not Serbs, but Serbians) will share the world production, but in foreign laboratories, like USA, France, Germany, Britain, etc. Metoikoi do not win Nobel Prize. After all Serbia is not Athens.


Author: Petar Grujić

October, 2015-10-14, Belgrade

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