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ichael Pollak: Re: Zizek Zeit (in English)

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Date: Thu, 1 Jul 1999 01:26:03 -0400 (EDT)
From: Michael Pollak <>
Subject: Re: Zizek Zeit (in English)

[By the way, the Zizek piece that was posted yesterday is my translation
of an article that appeared in Die Zeit, Nr. 26/1999, available at  It was translated
into Germany by von Eike Schönfeld-- hopefully from Slovenin :o)

When Zizek says:

> Threatened by Serbian nationalism, even Slovenian and Croatian
> nationalism preserved a respect for Tito's Yugoslavia, in any case for
> its fundamental principle, that of the federation of equal constituent
> states with full sovereignty, including the right to secede.  Whoever
> overlooks that, whoever reduces the war in Bosnia to a civil war
> between various "ethnic groups," is already on the side of the Serbs.

he leaves out two major things.  One is that there were two fundamental
principles of Tito's constitution: independent constituent states and the
nationalities that lived in them.  People had rights as members of
constituent states and rights as members of nationalities; neither right
had precedence over the other.  So if one wants to argue that a right to
secession was implicit in Titoist principles; and if one wants to argue
that secession should be decided by majority vote; under Yugoslavian law,
it would only be legitimate if the majority of the people on the territory
accepted it, and if the majority of the people in each subject nationality
accepted it.  And if the latter was not the case -- which it was not --
then the secession would not be legitimate under Titoist principles.  It
is possible at least theoretically to imagine compromises that could be
assented to by the majority of each nationality in each constituent state. 
Those would be secessions under Titoist principles. 

The second thing he leaves out is that the borders of the constituent
states were drawn purposively to the detriment of the Serbs.  It was
nothing underhanded, it was quite above board.  As Zizek rightly says,
Tito thought that the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (interwar
Yugoslavia) was unstable because the Serbs outweighed the others.  So in
drawing up his constituent states, he drew Serbia's borders smaller than
they would be if they were drawn to the best possible ethnic fit.  This
way Serbia as a state wouldn't overpower the others.  The Serbs accepted
this, because (a) they were more wedded to the idea of Yugoslavia than the
others, (b) having dominated the inter-war federal institutions, they
trusted they would get a fair shake from these, and (c) their rights as
minorities were protected under the scheme that gave them rights qua
Serbs, no matter where they lived (see point above). 

But without a Yugoslavia, you just have a lot of Serbs cut off from their
homeland on purpose.  And suddenly forced to become a minority in
countries that define them as enemies.  No matter how you cut it, that's
not fair.  I concede that the monstrous efforts of some of them to better
their situation make it harder to feel sympathy.  But not that it waters
down the justice of their claim. And not that all the principles of law
and justice were on the side of the "secessionists" (by which he means
states seceding from Yugoslavia, and not nationalities seceding from those

These are big omissions.  Reading Zizek's article, it strikes me again how
in Yugoslavia, whether one is a leftist or a liberal or a conservative
doesn't matter as much as where you come from.  After all is said and
done, for all his eccentricity and individualism, deep down Bogdan Denitch
has a Croatian worldview.  And Zizek has a Slovenian one.  Slovenia is the
one part of Yugoslavia for which the break-up was an unmitigated blessing. 
So although every time he writes about Yugoslavia he goes down a different
road, he always starts out and ends up at this same idea: that the
break-up was the best solution, that it was the only solution, that any
other solution was and is unthinkable.  So any position that thinks
otherwise -- i.e., one that emphasizes that Yugoslavia was "broken up" by
outsiders -- misses what, for him, existentially, must remain the essence
of the story, the main and unmoveable and Archimedian point: that break-up
was the only solution to a problem had to be solved. 

Of course, he is right that Milosevic was the first among equals of the
wrong doers, and that he bears the chief responsibility for breaking up
the state.  But no serious opponent of NATO's bombing argues otherwise,
including the one he quotes in his article, Alain Badiou.  Zizek is
creating his own false dichotomy here: either the Serbs are alone
responsible, or everyone is equally responsible, and since the latter is
false, the former must be true.  But they are both false. 


Michael Pollak................New York