Josip Broz Tito was one of the founding leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement. He was undeniably a significant world leader still loved by many around the globe but also had been harshly criticised by many people, especially by non-Serbs in former Yugoslavia for not doing enough to deter the Serbian hegemonic aspirations despite anticipating the outcome far ahead.
Tito was born and grown in the idyllic Zagorje region of Croatia. His mother was Slovenian and his father, Croatian. He started out as a locksmith. He first became a member of the Social Democratic Party of Croatia and Slavonia – not to be confused with Slovenia – at young age and later joined the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, gradually rising to leadership.
In the early years of his leadership, Tito intended close relations but felt pressure by the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin. In order to counter Soviet influence, he began to receive outside help, including military assistance from the Western countries. In 1953, he made a tripartite Balkan Pact with NATO members Greece and Turkey, with the aim to act as deterrence against the Soviet expansion. Although Tito was known to have reservations about the western influence and pluralist systems as threats to his own ideal communist state, the Pact was obviously intended to protect Yugoslavia from the USSR.
The death of Stalin in 1953 would not diminish the looming Soviet threat against the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Sharing the concerns of other countries caught between the two powerful blocs— Tito, together with leaders of India, Egypt, Ghana and Indonesia co-founded the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence of Sino-Indian Agreement in 1954 and Bandung Principles had both inspired the foundation of NAM.
After the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, many things have changed in the international system. Although many countries have been progressively reformed, some have taken the opposite direction. The economic reliance of many NAM members, especially on the West, was the new trend in international order after the Cold War.
With the winds of change in the former Eastern Bloc countries, popular demands for transition to a multiparty and more liberal system began to rise in Tito’s Yugoslavia as well. Unlike the USSR and other former Eastern Bloc nations, the transition was excruciating in Yugoslavia. The Republic of Serbia as an “internal hegemonist” of the federation, disrespected legitimate demands of other constitutive units for peaceful breakup of ex-Yugoslavia and undermined peaceful transition. Serbia saw the transition as an opportunity to expand its borders.
More than 20 years have passed since the wars of ex-Yugoslavia.
While the Western Balkan countries are prioritising the integration process to the European Union and everyone is expecting a more prosperous future, unfortunately Serbia is again signalling new fears through aggressive rhetoric and by using Serbian elements in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Montenegro. Taking the actions that can lead to repeating old habits can be the biggest mistake in the Western Balkans.
The current President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, during the Bosnian War was an MP from the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party in the National Assembly of Serbia. During the Kosovo War, he served as the Minister of Information. President Vučić, who has never regretted for his aggressive rhetoric and damages caused in the past, is now paraded as a “moderate leader” of the Serbs, which is yet to be seen. During the High-Level Commemorative Meeting on the occasion of NAM’s 60th Anniversary, Vučić pretended to be keeping Tito’s ideals alive. Instead, the event turned out to be a propaganda ground by the Serbian leadership, targeting exclusively Kosovo. Serbia, still reluctant to give up its hegemonic dreams, parades itself as the sole inheritor of the former Yugoslavia. In fact, the legacy of Yugoslavia belongs to all its constitutive units, as much as Serbia.
Ideals of living under one federation had been destroyed mostly by those responsible for the murder of more than 150 thousand innocent people in former Yugoslavia. Marshall Tito, a leader who earned the hearts and minds of people from many NAM countries, passed away in 1980. His spirit of unity had gradually been destroyed in the past 40 years mostly by the hegemonic ambitions of Serbia. This conjuncture led to the emergence and increase of influence of other nationalist movements as well.
The people of the western Balkans are virtuous. They will eventually find a way to live good neighbourly relations in a pluralistic and democratic environment. The only solution can be reached by genuinely adopting the values of the modern European Union by all Balkan countries. The European Union, despite some issues, with its values will remain a miracle of the 20th Century and a model system for the world. Without repeating mistakes of the past, leaders of the region, especially of Serbia, could relieve their people of the feelings of hostility and make them look to a peaceful future. We can only achieve it together as independent states by championing mutual respect and democratic principles.
The writer is the Ambassador of Republic of Kosovo to Bangladesh