Daily Archives: 23 November 2022

“Who Is Djilas?”

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 168-169:

As we are discussing books, I bring up the name of Milovan Djilas, the great World War II partisan fighter who was once Tito’s heir apparent, and later the original East European dissident, a man who wrote such classics of World War II and Cold War literature as Wartime, Conversations with Stalin, and The New Class. I interviewed Djilas every year in the 1980s in his Belgrade apartment behind the Parliament building. Through a clinical interpretation of history Djilas saw the vague outlines of the future, and specifically foresaw the war of the 1990s.

“Who is Djilas?” the students at the table exclaim, practically in unison. Though all are former Yugoslavs, these students and teachers have simply never heard of him. It turns out that the combination of censorship lasting into the 1990s, when they were young and in school—Djilas, after all, was a longtime dissident after he broke with Tito—and the constricting, often abstract, and theoretical reading lists of their university and graduate courses left no room for this great chronicler of an entire era in the second half of the twentieth century: an era that gave birth to the 1990s’ wars of the Yugoslav succession. Books and manuscripts vastly proliferate nowadays, even as less is really read, and so much of what is vital does not get passed down from generation to generation.

There is an air of depression and consternation at the restaurant table. And it isn’t just about the state of academia. Europe and especially the Balkans do not look hopeful. I am now told about how, among other things, Montenegro has become a colony of the Russian mafia and Albania the colony of the southern Italian mafia, accounting for the eruption of designer restaurants, bars, expensive hotels, and jewelry stores in Podgorica and Tirana. And there is, by now, the familiar litany about the poor and nasty ethnic climate in Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. In this part of Europe at least, it seems that NATO is only a superficial layer of reality, and the European Union is simply out of gas and credibility.

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