Primary Source

Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences (SANU) Memorandum, 1986


Dobrica Ćosić is a member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and is considered by many to be its most influential member. While Ćosić has been credited with writing the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, which appeared in unfinished fashion in the Serbian public in 1986, he in fact was not responsible for its writing.

Ćosić's long life has meant a long involvement in the evolution of the political life of Yugoslavia. He fought against the Nazis as a communist partisan and joined Tito's government following the war. As the Tito regime gradually decentralized administration of Yugoslavia after 1963, Ćosić grew convinced that the Serbian population of the state was imperiled. In May 1968, he gave a speech in which he condemned then-current nationalities policy in Yugoslavia. He was especially upset at the regime's inclination to grant greater autonomy to Kosovo and Vojvodina. Thereafter he acted as a dissident.

In the 1980s, following the death of Tito, Ćosić helped organize and lead a movement whose original goal was to gain equality for Serbia in the Yugoslav federation, but which rapidly became more nationalistic and aggressive. He was especially enthusiastic in his advocacy of the rights of the Serbian and Montenegrin populations of Kosovo. In 1989 he endorsed the leadership of Slobodan Milošević, and two years later he helped raise Radovan Karadžić to the leadership of the Bosnian Serbs. When war broke out in 1991, he supported the Serbian effort.

The Memorandum outlines many of the fears and tensions that developed within the former Yugoslavia as the Federated state began to fragment in the mid-1980's. At turns both strongly partisan and insecure, the document clearly calls Serbians to act forcefully to protect their threatened identity, if not existence.

This source is a part of the The Collapse of Yugoslavia teaching module.


Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences (SANU)
Memorandum 1986

[The President of SANU at this time was Dobrica Cosic]

There is deep concern in Yugoslavia because of stagnating social development,
economic difficulties, growing social tensions, and open inter-ethnic clashes. A
serious crisis has engulfed not only the political and economic arenas, but
Yugoslavia's entire system of law and order as well. Idleness and
irresponsibility at work, corruption and nepotism, a lack of confidence in and
disregard for the law, bureaucratic obstinacy, growing mistrust among
individuals, and increasingly arrogant individual and group egoism have
become daily phenomena. The resulting blow to moral values and to the
reputation of leading public institutions and a lack of faith in the competence
of decision - makers have spread apathy and bitterness among the public and
produced alienation from all the mainstays and symbols of law and order. An
objective examination of Yugoslav reality suggests that the present crisis may
end in social shocks with unforseeable consequences, including such a
catastrophic eventuality as the fragmentation of the Yugoslav state. No one can
close his eyes to what is happening and to what may happen. Certainly, our
nation's oldest institute of scientific and cultural creativity cannot do so.

In these fateful times, the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences feels obliged
to express its views on society's condition in the conviction that this will help
us find a way out of our present troubles. The nature of this document,
however, obliges us to limit ourselves to the key issues of Yugoslav reality.
Regretfully, these issues include the undefined and difficult position of the
Serbian nation, a position brought to the fore by recent events.

In order to understand the primacy of ethnicity in the present practice of the
League of Communists of Yugoslavia it is necessary to consider the influence of
the Comintern on the Communist Party of Yugoslavia between the two world
wars. The Comintern's strategy during that period derived from the conclusion
that following the failure of the proletarian revolution in Western Europe, the
Communist parties of Eastern, Central, and Southern Europe had to depend on
national movements, even though they were expressly anti-socialist and based
on the idea of national rather than class unity. Stalin engaged in crushing all
opposition to such a strategy (as, for example, in the case of Sima Markovic, one
of the founders of the Yugoslav Communist Party). In this spirit, the solution to
the national question was formulated and developed theoretically by Sperans
(Kardelj) in his book "Razvoj slovenskoga narodnoga vprsanja" (The
Development of the Slovene National Question), which generally served as the
ideological model for Yugoslav development in the direction of a confederation
of sovereign republics and autonomous regions, which was finally achieved by
the Constitution of 1974.

The two most developed republics, which achieved their national programs
with this Constitution, are now the most ardent defenders of the existing
system. Thanks to the political position of their leaders at the centers of
political power, they have held (both before and after the decisive years of the
1960s) the initiative in all matters affecting the political and economic system.
They modelled the social and economic structure of Yugoslavia to suit their
own desires and needs. Nothing would seem more normal that they now defend
the structure that they stubbornly took so long to build, a structure that
represents the attainment of most of their national programs.

No one needs convincing that separatism and nationalism are active on the
social scene, but there is insufficient understanding of the fact that such trends
have been made ideologically possible by the Constitution of 1974. The
constant reinforcement of and the competition engendered by separatism and
nationalism have driven the (ethnic) nations further from one another to a
critical degree. The manipulation of language and the confinement of scientific
and cultural professionals within the ranks of the republics and regions are
sorry signs of the growing power of particularism. All new ethnogeneses are
unfortunate products of locally closed, regional ideologies and shackled logic,
and they are also symptomatic of a retreat from a common past, a common
present, and a common future. It is as if everyone wished to flee as fast and as
far as possible from a collapsing house. Mental attitudes warn us that the
political crisis has reached the critical point, threatening the complete
destabilization of Yugoslavia. Kosovo is the clearest expression of

No form of political oppression and discrimination on the basis of nationality is
properly acceptable in modern society. The Yugoslav solution to the
nationalities question could be considered at its inception an exemplary model
of a multinational federation in which the principle of the unity of the state and
state policy was successfully joined with the principle of the political and
cultural autonomy of nationalities and national minorities. During the past two
decades the principle of unity has become progressively weaker and the
principle of national autonomy is stressed, which has in practice changed into a
sovereignty of the parts (republics, which are not ethnically homogenous as a
rule). The weaknesses that were present in the model from the beginning
became more and more visible. All nations are not equal: the Serbian nation, for
example, did not obtain the right to its own state. Unlike national minorities,
portions of the Serbian people, who live in other republics in large numbers, do
not have the right to use their own language and alphabet, to organize
politically and culturally, and to develop the unique culture of their nation. The
unstoppable persecution of Serbs in Kosovo in a drastic manner shows that
those principles that protect the autonomy of a minority (Albanians) and not
applied when it comes to a minority within a minority (Serbs, Montenegrins,
Turks and Gypsies in Kosovo). Considering the existing forms of national discrimination,
present-day Yugoslavia can not be considered a democratic state.

. . .Yugoslavia is seen less as a community of citizens, nations and nationalities
all equal before the law, and more as a community of eight equal territories. But
even this variety of equality does not apply to Serbia because of its special legal
and political position which reflects the tendency to keep the Serbian nation
under constant supervision. The guiding principle behind this policy has been
"a weak Serbia, a strong Yugoslavia" and this has evolved into an influential
mind - set: if rapid economic growth were permitted the Serbs, who are the
largest nation, it would pose a danger to the other nations of Yugoslavia. And
so all possibilities are grasped to place increasing obstacles in the way of their
economic development and political consolidation. One of the most serious of
such obstacles is Serbia's present undefined constitutional position, so full of
internal conflicts.

The Constitution of 1974, in fact, divided Serbia into three parts. The
autonomous provinces within Serbia were made equal to the republics, save
that they were not defined as such and that they do not have the same number
of representatives in the various bodies of the federation. They make up for
this shortcoming by being able to interfere in the internal relations of Serbia
proper through the republic's common assembly (while their assemblies remain
completely autonomous). The political and legal position of Serbia proper is
quite vague - Serbia proper is neither a republic nor a province. Relationships in
the republic of Serbia are quite confused. The Executive Council, which is a
body of the republic's assembly, is in fact the Executive Council for Serbia
proper. This is not the only absurdity in the limitation of authority. The
excessively broad and institutionally well established autonomy of the
provinces has created two new fissures within the Serbian nation. The truth is
that the proautonomy and separatist forces insisted on increasing autonomy,
but this would have been difficult to achieve had they not received moral and
political support from those republics in which separatist tendencies have
never died out.

Relations between Serbia and the provinces cannot be reduced solely or even
primarily to a formal legal interpretation of two constitutions. It is primarily a
matter of the Serbian nation and their state. A nation that has regained
statehood after a long and bloody struggle, that has achieved civil democracy,
and that lost two and half million kinsmen in two world wars underwent the
experience of having a bureaucratically constructed party commission
determine that after four decades in the new Yugoslavia it alone was
condemned to be without its own state. A more bitter historic defeat in
peacetime can not be imagined.

The expulsion of the Serbian nation from Kosovo bears spectacular witness to
its historic defeat. In the spring of 1981 a very special, but nevertheless open
and total war, prepared by administrative, political, and legal changes made at
various periods, was declared against the Serbian people. Waged through the
skilful application of various methods and tactics, with a division of functions,
and with the active, not merely passive, and little concealed support of certain
political centers within Yugoslavia (more pernicious than the support coming
from outside), this open war, which has yet to be looked in the face and called
by its proper name, has been continuing for almost five years. It has thus lasted
longer than the entire Yugoslav war of liberation (from April 6, 1941 to May 9,
1945). The Balli (anti-communist nationalist) uprising in Kosovo and Metohija
that broke out just before the end of the war with the participation of fascist
units was broken militarily in 1944 - 45, but it appears not to have been broken
politically. Its present form, disguised with a new content, is proceeding more
successfully and is moving towards a victorious outcome. A final showdown
with neo-fascism did not materialize; all of the measures so far taken have only
removed the expression of this aggression from the streets and in fact, its
racially motivated and unretracted goals, which are being sought after by all
means and at all costs, have only been reinforced. Deliberately drastic
sentences are even pronounced on young offenders in order to incite and
inflame inter - ethnic hatreds.

The physical, political, legal and cultural genocide perpetrated against the
Serbian population of Kosovo and Metohija is the greatest defeat suffered by
Serbia in the wars of liberation she waged between Orasac in 1804 and the
uprising of 1941. Responsibility for this defeat falls primarily on the still living
Comintern heritage in the nationalities policy of the Communist Party of
Yugoslavia and on the acquiescence of Serbian communists in this policy and
on the exorbitant ideological and political delusion, ignorance, immaturity, and
chronic opportunism of an entire generation of post - war Serbian politicians,
always on the defensive and always more concerned with the opinions others
have of them and of their hesitant explanations of Serbia's position than with
the true facts affecting the future of the nation that they lead.

Kosovo is not the only region in which the Serbian nation is being pressured by
discrimination. The absolute (and not merely relative) fall in the number of
Serbs in Croatia is sufficient proof of this assertion. According to the 1948
census there were 543,795 Serbs in Croatia (14.48% of the total). According to
the 1981 census their number has been reduced to 531,502 or only 11.5% of the
total number of inhabitants in Croatia. Over 33 peacetime years the number of
Serbs in Croatia has declined, even in relation to the immediate post - war
period when the first census was taken and when the effects of the war on the
number of Serbian inhabitants in Croatia was well known.

Lika, Kordun, and Banija have remained the most under developed regions of
Croatia and this has greatly encouraged the emigration of Serbs to Serbia and
migrations to other parts of Croatia where the Serbs, being newcomers, are a
minority and socially inferior group, greatly exposed to assimilation. In any
case, the Serbs in Croatia are otherwise exposed to a sophisticated and quite
effective policy of assimilation. One component of this policy is the prohibition
of all Serbian associations and cultural institutions in Croatia, which had had a
rich tradition dating from the Austro-Hungarian and pre-war Yugoslav periods,
and the imposition of an official language that bears the name of another
nation (Croatia), thus giving concrete shape to national inequality. A
constitutional provision has made this language obligatory for the Serbs in
Croatia, and nationalistically inclined Croatian linguists are distancing it
systematically and by well - organized actions from the language used in the
other republics of the Serbo Croatian language area, and this is helping to
weaken the ties binding the Serbs in Croatia to other Serbs. Such action is gladly undertaken at
the cost of interrupting language continuity among the Croats themselves and
of eliminating international terms that are invaluable for communicating with
other cultures, particularly in the field of science and technology. But the
Serbian community in Croatia is not just cut off from their homeland culturally;
that homeland cannot keep itself informed of their circumstances or of their
economic or cultural situation anywhere near the extent to which it is possible
for some nations in Yugoslavia to maintain contact with their compatriots in
other countries. The integrity of the Serbian nation and its culture in Yugoslavia
as a whole is an issue vital to its survival and progress.

With the exception of the Independent State of Croatia from 1941 - 45, Serbs in
Croatia have never been as persecuted in the past as they are now. The solution
to their national position must be considered an urgent political question. In so
much as a solution can not be found,the results could be disastrous, not just in
relation to Croatia, but to all of Yugoslavia.

The question of the Serbian people's position is given considerable weight by
the fact that a large number of Serbians live outside of Serbia, especially Serbia
proper, and that their number is larger than the total number of people of some
other nations. According to the census of 1981, 24% of the Serbian people
(1,958,000) live outside of the Socialist Republic of Serbia, which is considerably
more than the number of Slovenians, Albanians, Macedonians and taken
individually, almost the same as the Muslims. Outside of Serbia proper there
are 3,285,000 Serbs or 40.3% of their total population. In the general
disintegration process which has taken over Yugoslavia, the Serbs are hit with
the most intense disintegration. The present course which our society in
Yugoslavia has taken is totally opposite from the one that has moved for
decades and centuries until the formation of a unified state. This process is
aimed at the total destruction of the national unity of the Serbian people.

Having borne for over half a century the stigma and handicap of being the jailer
of the other Yugoslav nations, the Serbian nation was incapable of deriving
support from its own history. Many aspects of this history itself were even
brought into question. The democratic bourgeoisie tradition for which Serbia
had struggled successfully in the 19th century has remained in the shadow cast
by the Serbian socialist and labor movement until quite recently because of
narrow - mindedness and lack of objectivity on the part of official
historiography. This so impoverished and restricted the true picture of the
contribution made by Serbian bourgeoisie society to law, culture, and
states man ship that, deformed in this manner, it could not provide mental or
moral support to anyone nor could it serve as a foothold for preserving or
reviving historical self-confidence. The brave and honorable efforts
at liberation exerted by the Serbs of Bosnia - Herzegovina and by all Yugoslav
youth, which included Young Bosnia, experienced a similar fate and were
pushed into the historical background by the contributions of a class ideology
whose proponents and creators were Austrian Marxists, confirmed opponents
of movements of national liberation.

Influenced by the ruling ideology, the cultural achievements of the Serbian
people are undergoing alienation, being usurped by others or denigrated, or
they are ignored and retrogress; the language is being displaced and the Cyrillic
script is gradually being lost. In this connection, the realm of literature is
serving as the main arena for caprice and anarchy. The cultural and spiritual
integrity of no other Yugoslav nation is so roughly challenged as that of the
Serbian nation. No other literary and artistic heritage is so disordered, ravaged,
and confused as the Serbian heritage. The political criteria of the ruling
ideology are imposed on Serbian culture as being more valuable and stronger
than scientific or historical criteria.

After the dramatic interethnic conflicts of the world war, it had appeared that
chauvinism has lost momentum was even on the road to oblivion. This
appearance has proven deceptive. It was not long before nationalism began
rising up once more, and every change in the constitution served to promote its
growth. Nationalism has been promoted from above; its chief proponents have
been politicians. The fundamental cause of this multi-dimensional crisis is to
be found in the ideological defeat of socialism at the hands of nationalism,
which has produced the centrifugal processes that have brought the Yugoslav
community to the brink of ruin and which has destroyed the old system of

Its roots lie in the ideology of the Comintern and in the nationalities policy of
the pre-war CPY. The revanchism directed at the Serbian nation as an
"exploiting" nation that was built into this policy has had far - reaching
consequences for inter-ethnic relations, the social organization, the economic
system, and the fate of moral and cultural values since the Second World War.
The Serbian nation has been encumbered with a feeling of historical guilt and
has remained the only nation not to solve its national problem and not to
receive its own state like the other nations. Therefore, the first and foremost
action must be to remove this burden of historical guilt from the Serbian
nation, to categorically deny the contention that it enjoyed a privileged
economic position between the two world wars, and to refrain from denigrating
Serbia's liberation-oriented history and contribution in creating Yugoslavia.

Complete national and cultural integrity of the Serbian people is their historic
and democratic right, no matter in which republic or province they might find
themselves living. The attainment of equality and an independent development
have profound historical meaning for the Serbian people. In less than fifty
years, over two successive generations, the Serbian nation has been exposed to
such severe trials - twice exposed to physical extermination, to forced
assimilation, to religious conversion, to cultural genocide, to ideological
indoctrination, and to the denigration and renunciation of their own traditions
beneath an imposed guilt complex, and thereby disarmed intellectually and
politically, that they could not but leave deep spiritual wounds that can not be
ignored as this century of the great technological takeoff draws to a close. In
order to have a future in the international family of cultured and civilized
nations, the Serbian nation must have an opportunity to find itself again and
become a historical agent, must re-acquire an awareness of its historical and
spiritual being, must look its economic and cultural interests square in the
eyes, and must find a modern social and national program that will inspire this
generation and generations to come.

The present depressing con dition of the Serbian nation, with chauvinism and
Serbo phobia being evermore violently expressed in certain circles, favor of a
revival of Serbian nationalism, an increasingly drastic expression of Serbian
national sensitivity, and reactions that can be volatile and even dangerous. We
must not overlook or underestimate these dangers for a moment under any
circumstances. But a principled struggle against Serbian chauvinism can not be
based on the reigning ideological and political symmetry in historical guilt. The
rejection of this symmetry, fatal to the spirit and morale, with its trite
falsehoods and injustices, is a precondition for mobility and effectiveness on
the part of democratic, Yugoslav, humanistic awareness in contemporary
Serbian culture.

The fact that ordinary citizens and the working class are not represented in the
appropriate councils in the Federal Assembly cannot simply be ascribed to
favoritism for ethnic nationalisms; it is also the result of an attempt to place
Serbia in a position of inequality and thereby weaken her political influence. But
the greatest calamity is the fact that the Serbian nation does not posses a state
like all of the other nations. True, the first article of the Constitution of the
Socialist Republic of Serbia contains a provision to the effect that Serbia is a
state, but the question immediately arises: What kind of a state is one that lacks
authority within its own territory and lacks the means to protect the personal
property of its citizens, to prevent genocide in Kosovo, and to prevent the
emigration of Serbs from their ancient homeland? This position underlines the
political discrimination against Serbia, especially when one remembers that the
Constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has imposed
internal federalism on Serbia, creating a permanent source of conflicts between
Serbia Proper and the provinces. The aggressive Albanian chauvinism in Kosovo
can not be contained until Serbia ceases to be the sole republic whose internal
relations are ordered by others.

The Federal Constitution has formally established the equality of all the
republics but this has been rendered worthless in practice by forcing the
Republic of Serbia to renounce many of its rights and powers in favor of the
autonomous provinces, the status of which is regulated by the Federal
Constitution to a considerable extent. Serbia must openly state that this is an
imposed arrangement. This is especially true in regard to the position of the
provinces, which in reality have been promoted to republics and which regard
themselves far more as constituent elements of the Federation rather than as
parts of the republic of Serbia. Besides failing to consider a state for the Serbian
nation, the Yugoslav Constitution also created insurmountable difficulties to
the establishment of such a state. In order to satisfy Serbia's legitimate
interests, a revision of that constitution is unavoidable. The autonomous
provinces must become true integral parts of the Republic of Serbia by granting
them a degree of autonomy that would not destroy the integrity of the Republic
and would make it possible to act in the common interests of the wider

The unhappy matter of Serbian statehood is not the only deficiency that must
be corrected by constitutional amendments. The 1974 constitution turned
Yugoslavia into a very unstable state community, prone to consider alternatives
other than the Yugoslav alternative, as has been made clear in recent
statements by public figures in Slovenia and the earlier positions taken by
Macedonian politicians. Such considerations and fragmentation lead to the
notion that Yugoslavia is in danger of further corrosion. The Serbian nation
can not meekly await the future in such a state of uncertainty. Therefore, all of
the nations within Yugoslavia must be given the opportunity to express their
wants and intentions. Serbia would then be able to declare and define her own
national interests. Discussions and agreements in this vein must precede an
examination of the Constitution. Naturally, Serbia must not take a passive stand
in all this, waiting to hear what others will say, as she has done so often in the

The position of equality that Serbia must strive for presupposes the same
initiative in deciding on key political and economic issues as enjoyed by others.
Four decades of Serbian passivity have been bad for Yugoslavia as a whole by
failing to contribute ideas and critical appraisals based on her longer state
tradition, enhanced feeling for national independence, and rich experience in
struggling against home - grown usurpers of political freedom. Unless the
Serbian nation within Serbia participate on an equal footing in the entire
process of decision making and implementation, Yugoslavia cannot be strong - -
and Yugoslavia's very existence as a democratic, socialist community will be
called into question.

An entire period in the development of the Yugoslav community and of Serbia
has clearly ended in a historically worn-out ideology, overall stagnation, and
ever more obvious regression in the economic, political, moral, and cultural
spheres. Such a situation imperatively requires a profound and well-thought
out, rationally grounded, and decisively implemented reform of the entire
govern mental structure and social organization of the Yugoslav community of
nations, and speedy and beneficial integration into the modern world through
social democracy. The human resources of the entire country must be involved
to the utmost extent in social reform in order that we may become a
productive, enlightened, and democratic society capable of existing on the
fruits of our own labor and creativity and able to make our fair contribution to
the human race.

The Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences is taking this occasion to express
once again its willingness to promote this portentous undertaking and the
historical aspirations of our generation with all the resources at its disposal.


Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, Memorandum 1986, 1986, Haverford College (accessed February 4, 2009).

How to Cite This Source

"Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences (SANU) Memorandum, 1986," in World History Commons, [accessed February 21, 2024]