THE VANISHING TWENTY YEARS

HISTORICAL TIME, POLITICAL TIME


History does not change every day. European history used to be divided into “ages” and “centuries”, but also into “reigns” and “regimes” – meaning the periods of individual historically important monarchs or political leaders. With the “present day” acceleration of history, standards of change have shrunk. Do we measure historical change by elections and political mandates? Which countries should be taken into consideration? Austria, Austria- Hungary, France, Russia, Slovenia, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, United States or Yugoslavia? Emperor Franz Joseph I ruled Austria almost 68 years (1848–1916). Some American presidencies, e.g. the Roosevelt (1933–1945), the Kennedy (1961–1963) or the Reagan presidency (1981–1989) have characterized American life in a profoundly meaningful way – regardless of the time spent in office. We can also talk about the Winston Churchill era (1940–1945, 1951–1955), the Charles de Gaulle (1959–1969), Helmut Kohl (1982–1998), Margaret Thatcher (1979–1990) or Tony Blair era (1997–2007). On the other hand, the “bad” Soviet Union is synonymous with the exceptionally long rule of Joseph Stalin (1922–1953), while the “good” Soviet Union is identified with the short rule of Mikhail Gorbachev (1985–1991). We often describe the time when Josip Broz Tito ruled Yugoslavia as Tito’s era (1945–1980). We talk about a Kennedy or a Gorbachev era irrespective of the number of years spent in office. On the other hand, Tito’s or Stalin’s era each lasted more than thirty years. So, history does not necessarily change every four years! Does it change every new generation – meaning four times in a century? How long are the steps, how lasting the historical achievements? Of course, everything depends on the definition. Philip Bobbitt has argued that WW I ended only in 1989. Such generous standards probably could not help the purpose of this paper.


THE TWENTY YEARS STANDARD?


World War II followed WW I after twenty years. Twenty years passed between the end of WW II and the introduction of the economic reforms in Yugoslavia (1945–1965) and between two famous crises of the Soviet world (1948–1968).1 The sixties in Yugoslavia were the years of hope and limited reforms. Economic reforms were started in 1965, while in 1966 the chief of secret police Aleksandar Rankovic´ lost his post at the conference in Brioni. The reaction against liberalization came from Moscow and from domestic quarters. In 1968, the Belgrade student protesters carrying large portraits of Marx, Lenin and Tito criticized Capitalism, demanded return to revolutionary values and to true Socialism. Italian Fascism also lasted approximately twenty years (1922–1943). It seems to be a meaningful portion of historical time. For the generation born in Central and Eastern Europe immediately after WW II,2 twenty years seems to be an appropriate measure not only of the length of a generation, but also of social and political change. During the last twenty years (1990–2010) the previously divided Europe became more or less united, former single-party dictatorships changed into democracies, and the state controlled Socialist economies slipped into market systems. The duration of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918–1941) was a little longer in years. The Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia lasted for eighteen years (1945–1963) when it changed its name to Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.3


SECURING THE ACHIEVEMENTS


The protagonists of social change tend to invest considerable efforts to legitimize their achievements. Changes depend on the way the previous changes were secured, i.e. the way they were packaged and impressed upon the consciousness of the contemporaries by media dissemination, education, propaganda, art etc. They depend on the strength (or weakness) of the established culture of the preceding era. The durability of this culture is determined by the relevance of its dominant narrative.


THE PROMINENT NARRATIVES OF THE 20TH CENTURY


After the demise of the French revolution and the subsequent stabilizing concerts and congresses, came the time of great collectivist mythologies and ideologies from International- Socialism and Fascism to National-Socialism. During WW II and immediately after its conclusion, Western and Eastern Europe shared the same narrative. The universally acceptable and self-explanatory core of the World War II culture was liberation from Fascism (LF). Quite a number of years after the war, most legal documents, all official papers and even letters in Slovenia would end with the obligatory postscript: “Death to Fascism, Freedom to the People!”4 In 1945 and, maybe still in the Fifties, the atrocities of Fascism and the blessings of Freedom were self-evident. Except in the emigrant communities outside the country and in some marginal groups within the country, the culture of liberation from Fascism was quite safe for nearly twenty years. It was safe – and probably strengthened – even after the ideological complications associated with the break with Stalin. The signs of fatigue and even exhaustion appeared with the economic stagnation. After WW II, the common narrative was “enriched” by several and different additions. East of the Iron Curtain, the appeal of the liberation culture was partly damaged by the addition of the regressive Socialist revolution (LF+R).


SEARCH FOR A NEW NARRATIVE


In Yugoslavia, a new story was sought, a story that would contain change and continuity at the same time.5 This was the time of ambivalence and contradiction producing irony, a flood of anti- Government jokes, anger, criticism, rejection and protest. In the Sixties, the search for a new narrative seemed successful, but the remedy which consisted of economic reform and Party purges was of short duration. After the suspicion that liberalization might bring the collapse of the system, the tough/leaden Seventies followed. The discovery of the mass killings in 1945 by the Yugoslav Army of the prisoners of war6 further eroded the legitimacy of the Communist Government. Fascists and Communists, portrayed by the official culture as mortal enemies to one another in WW II, no longer seemed so different from each other. More and more people would point to their similarities rather than their differences, and the grand narrative was coming to an end. After the mid-Sixties, the culture of Socialist Liberation from Fascism was maintained by the security services. What could not be preserved by attraction or seduction was preserved by force. The problem was that due to the longevity of the Communist system, the security forces and their networks grew quite strong. As we have seen, these forces survived with flying colors not only in Russia, but also in Slovenia.


THE STORY OF DEMOCRACY AND INDEPENDENCE


The duration of a meaningful historical period depends on its physical vitality,7 but also on the capacity to maintain its culture. By maintaining a culture I mean the preservation of its attractiveness and the credibility of the central narrative. The main pillars of the narrative of 1989 have been democracy, independence and modernization (DIM). This was understood as the infrastructure for a modern economy and culture of relaxation, good education, free competition, honesty, well being etc. This narrative worked quite well at the beginning, particularly in the period when Slovenia established itself as a separate place of safety and prosperity, away from the Yugoslav crisis. But the forces and networks of the former system were alive and kicking. Relying on the long-term attractiveness of their narrative, the new democratic groups have not introduced any punitive measures or restrictions against the members of the former nomenclature. They were busy managing the transition from the old system, leading the country towards the EU and NATO etc. Behind their backs, the old elites8 organized themselves politically and financially, particularly in the banking, communications, education, energy, judicial, media and public relations systems. This was the business they knew well.


COEXISTENCE OF OPPOSING NARRATIVES


In principle, democracy encourages the coexistence of different and even opposing cultures. In Slovenia, the modern democratic and liberal culture coexisted with a nostalgic culture of egalitarianism and social security enveloped in, and flavoured with, different shades of leftist and populist rhetoric. Under the surface of equality and solidarity, considerable corruption developed, while former Party officials and state security experts formed a new class of successful businessmen and glamorous tycoons. In the elections of the last twenty years, they have usually managed to attract the vote of approximately one half of the Slovenian electorate, but their power extends beyond democratic institutions.


EXPECTATIONS FOR THE FUTURE


The question is whether we can expect another dramatic change in the second decade of the twenty-first century, after the present twenty-year period has elapsed. Certainly, Slovenian leftleaning groups will continue to press for a return of the old regime and, perhaps, for a reinterpretation if not revival of a Balkan Federation. Such policies might be supported by developments in the EU and beyond the EU. After 2004, after the accession of Bulgaria and Romania and especially after the Lisbon Treaty, the enlargement process has not progressed the way many expected. Croatia might be an exception, but for the rest of the Balkans and for Turkey, alternative solutions are being sought. Slovenia should of course support the inclusion of all Western Balkan countries into the EU. The best solution would be to advocate a comprehensive enlargement; otherwise the Balkan countries – think of the complex relations between Serbia, Kosovo and Albania – might block each other. It is imperative that a comprehensive solution is found. This is certainly a challenge for the new EU Common Foreign and Security Policy arrangement – which is already a daunting task.


EUROPEAN HOPES AND FEARS


In the next years, the EU will have to decide whether it is prepared to act on the international scene either as one bloc and a partner to countries like China, India, Japan, Russia and the US, or whether it will rather allow itself to be represented – or even replaced – by various formulae, e.g. directoire of the largest countries, a locomotive, or the Euro-zone group. It seems that the development of the Israeli–Palestinian, Israeli–Iranian and Turkish–Iranian situation will depend on the solution to this problem. Maybe a solution to European internal difficulties will be found under the pressure of the mentioned developments. Here, one should start a longer and even more substantial discussion on the problems of relations between cultures. We need dialogue, coexistence and cooperation between religious cultures, such as Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism. In the past, these relations have been interpreted in a simplified way, as if the entire religious, ethnic or national communities were by definition and by their nature at odds with each other.9 The so called dialogue between cultures would benefit from expert exchanges and analyses, and should avoid falling back to the traditions of nationalism, racial prejudice, cultural exclusion and Kulturkampf.


THE DIFFICULTIES OF THE EU


Additional analyses of relations between larger and smaller nations, between managers and participants of the enlargement process, between “deepeners” and “wideners”, between Old Europe and New Europe and also between the US and the EU would help to formulate adequate EU cultural policies. For reasons that should be revisited and publicly discussed, the EU – so far – has not managed to establish itself as a decision-making player on the international scene. The EU does not at this time have a recognizable and recognized common foreign policy, nor does it have its own proper diplomacy. We have an exceptionally well paid bureaucratic, technocratic and irresponsible external action service. It seems that the present-day bodiless and faceless leadership is leading the EU to bodiless and faceless irrelevance.


HISTORICAL AND RELIGIOUS NARRATIVES


East of the former Iron Curtain, we have seen a “culture clash” of a different kind. In former Communist countries like Slovenia and other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, we are confronted by ongoing hostilities and destructive relations between Revolutionary, Egalitarian, Socialist, Modernist, Liberal, Elitist, Conservative and other political cultures/narratives. In the next twenty years we should come to terms – in political analyses and dialogues – with most of them. We should secure their respectful coexistence, and cooperation. If such a development does not take place, the period that started in 1989 and has since introduced a narrative of democracy, independence and modernization (DIM), will slowly vanish from the screen of modern history, while its erasure from text-books will not be necessary, since the DIM story has been successfully kept out of them by the guardians of the older narrative (LF+R).

NOTES

1 I am referring to the Cominform Resolution of 28 June, 1948, and to the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia of 21 August, 1968.

2 The author of these lines was born in 1946. His generation has been called the Baby Boom Generation. This generation succeeded the Partisan Generation of the veterans who fought in World War II (implying also the generation of the author’s parents). The baby boomers were followed by generations of Baby Busters (birth between 1961 and 1981), “Y” (seventies and eighties) and “Z” or Internet Generation (nineties…).

3 The SFRY lived under the new name until 1991, but two important events interrupted its habitual course: in 1974, a new Constitution gave more rights to the constituent republics, and in 1980, its historical leader Josip Broz Tito died.

4 In Slovenian, the text went: “Smrt fašizmu, svoboda narodu!” In this case, narod was intended to mean people rather than nation, a meaning dictated by the Yugoslav and Soviet propaganda.

5 The well known slogan read: Let us Preserve the Tradition of the Revolution!

6 The first to speak – in a Trieste magazine – about the killings of 12,000 anti-Communist Domobranci (“Home Guards”) was the poet Edvard Kocbek in 1975.

7 In Communist systems an era is determined by the longevity of the supreme Party leader.

8 The Slovenian League of Communists changed its name to Social Democrats, while the successors to the Socialist Youth Union have established two different but related and connected parties: Liberal Democracy and “Zares” (meaning For Real).

9 I am referring to the debate between advocates and critics of Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations.

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