Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, March 5 1997:

Miladin Zivotic, a Serbian Peace Dissident

By Chris Hedges


Miladin Zivotic, a leading dissident during the Communist era in Yugoslavia and one of the most prominent domestic critics of Serbian involvement in the Balkan wars, died at his home in Belgrade on Feb.26 1997. He was 66. The cause of death was a heart attack, his family said.

Mr. Zivotic was the leader of the Belgrade Circle, a small group of intellectuals and artists who condemned the Serbian role in the wars in Bosnia and Croatia. The group, which he helped found in 1992 and which included Yugoslavia's best-known dissident, Milovan Djilas, tried to reach out to Muslims and Croats to create a common front against nationalist movements in the Balkans. It was often denounced by the authorities as being a tool of Serbia's enemies. To register his disapproval of the siege of Sarajevo by the' Bosnian Serbs, Mr. Zivotic visited the city in 1993, slipping through Bosnian Serb lines.

He was also an outspoken critic of Serbia's treatment of non-Serbs within its borders, especially the some two million Albanians in the Kosovo region. And when nationalists began to threaten Muslims in the Sanjak region of Serbia early in the Bosnian war he went to live with Muslim families. "This is not just the death of an individual, but the death of an intellectual tradition," said Obrad Savic, the editor of the Belgrade Circle journal. "He was rejected all his life. He lived on the margins. But he never gave up his engagement in the world. He believed passionately in the common humanity of all people and endured great hardship and loneliness in his battle for human decency."

Despite his stature he was ignored by the Serbian press, even the opposition press, and was never invited to speak at the anti-Government protests that gripped Belgrade for the last three months.

The decision by student and opposition leaders to keep him away came because of his firm belief that Serbian society could only renew itself by accepting the blame for the Balkan wars and ridding itself of Serbian nationalist invective that he denounced as racist. "The first act any new president of this country must do is travel to Sarajevo and beg for forgiveness, just as Willy Brandt did when "he traveled to Warsaw," he said in an interview shortly before his death, referring to the West German Chancellor who pursued a policy of reconciliation with the enemies of German Nazism. "This is the only way we can begin to heal ourselves."

Such language still angers many Serbs who insist that they are "The victims in the war and attack The Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, not for starting the war but for withdrawing Belgrade's support for the Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia.

Mr. Zivotic first came to prominence in 1968, when Yugoslav university students staged anti-Communist protests at the time of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. For their support of the students he and seven other philosophy professors were dismissed. He started the Free-Belgrade University, which met secretly in houses and whose classes were often broken up by the police. Mr. Zivotic did not return to his University of Belgrade post until 1987, seven years after the death of Tito.

Soon after he regained his old position, he found himself ostracized again because of his condemnation of growing Serbian nationalism. As the wave of nationalism swept through the educational system he was denounced by students and professors as a traitor to the Serbian cause, and he retired in 1994.

Although a searing critic of his own society, Mr. Zivotic was reluctant to criticize Serbia's opponents. After a lengthy critique of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which he condemned as "the cradle of Serbian nationalism and an enemy of modernity," he was asked to assess the role of the Roman Catholic Church, the dominant religion in Croatia, in the conflict between Serbia and Croatia.

"My role is to examine and criticize myself and my society," he said. "It is up to the Croatians to examine themselves. I am not competent to be their critic. Ask them."

He is survived by a son, Aleksandar, and a daughter, Dragana Jovicevic, as well as his former wife, Milica, and two grandchildren.

The Life and Work of Miladin Zivotic

By Dragana Jovicevic and Alexandar Zivotic, written for the Polish Dissidents’ Dictionary

Miladin Zivotic was born in the village Ripanj near Belgrade on August 14th 1930. His father was a respectable craftsman, and the cousins on his mother’s side were the officers of the Royal Army. After Primary school, he moves to Belgrade, where, as during his whole education, he graduates from High School with all the best marks, and in 1953 from the Faculty of Philosophy. As a self-taught person, he learnt four foreign languages; English, Russian, French and German.

From 1954 till 1955 he works as a High School teacher in Prizren and Belgrade. In 1956 he starts lecturing as a docent at the History of Philosophy Department of the Belgrade University Faculty of Philosophy and afterwards lectures axiology and contemporary philosophy. In 1961, after his stay at the Michigan University, Ann Arbor, USA upon the Ford scholarship, he receives his Ph D. on the topic of Pragmatism and Contemporary Philosophy.

He was the founder and the Director of the School of Philosophy in Krusevac for six years, but he resigned in protest, convinced that nationalism prevailed there.

Three times he was elected for the President of the Philosophical Society.

His political engagement begins in 1968 during the famous Student protests at Belgrade University where, together with his colleagues, he was one of it’s organizers. It was the first time he came into conflict with the Former Yugoslav regime.
Around those years together with 7 of his colleagues from Belgrade and Zagreb University he forms the famous PRAXIS GROUP, which, according to the philosophical mainstream in Western Europe, followed tendencies of the Theory of Universal Human Emancipation. The PRAXIS GROUP establishes "The Korcula Summer School" which was held every summer in the small Croatian town Korcula from 1969 till 1972 and was attended by the greatest European philosophers such as Heidegger, Marcuse, etc…

From 1972 to 1973 Miladin Zivotic lectured in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, this time as a visiting professor, and arrived back to Yugoslavia in the middle of Tito’s regime’s indictments of the PRAXIS GROUP. After strong resistance of the Belgrade Faculty of Philosophy to dismiss 8 professors from the Faculty, in 1975 Serbian Assembly passed the special law according to which named professors were forbidden to lecture with the explanation that "they are morally and politically unsuitable to raise the youth".

The following 6 years Miladin Zivotic spends in home exile. He was taken away basic human rights – to work, lecture, publish books, speak and appear in public, leave the country. The only engagement at that time for him and his 7 colleagues were gatherings of so called Free University. Namely, the intellectual Serbian and Croatian elite of that time, together with students, gathered together in private flats organizing talks about current philosophical, sociological and literal topics.

In 1981 under the great pressure of the West there was established the Institute of the Social Sciences in Belgrade to "take care" of the PRAXIS GROUP and other dissidents. There professor Zivotic gains the right to work again, after the brutal attitude of the regime due to which he spent a year in the Bureau for Unemployed before he started working in the Institute.
In 1987 he was returned to the Faculty of Philosophy as a full professor.

Being the active fighter of the Antiwar Protest in Serbia during 90ties, with the beginning of crisis on the territory of Former Yugoslavia, professor Zivotic immediately begins with the severe criticism of the increasing nationalism and nationalistic regimes throughout the whole Former Yugoslavia.

In 1991 he establishes the Civilian Pace Campaign, and since 1992 with the group of his like-minded friends he establishes the Belgrade Circle, a nonpolitical association of independent intellectuals who refused to betray the basic principles of tolerance, justice and truth. He remained it’s front man till the day he died.

In times of dreadful nationalistic euphoria and civil war Mr. Zivotic put all his personal and intellectual engagement into the service of fighting against war, slaughter and nationalism, which caused severe criticism and dispute of Milosevic’s regime and nationalist intellectuals, among whom were some of his closest friends from PRAXIS GROUP.

In 1992 he was the organizer of "The Black Band", the first and the most massive antiwar civil movement in Belgrade against the bombing of Sarajevo.

Since the beginning of the war till the Dayton Agreement, every Saturday he led very popular antiwar sessions, which at that time were the only place where the words against war euphoria could be heard.

He also showed his caring by traveling to Sarajevo which was under siege. He traveled there across Hungary and the capital of Croatia, for that was the only way to reach Sarajevo in those days, reached the city through the underground tunnel, went through the city followed by sniper firing and went back home climbing the Igman mountain under almost impossible circumstances.

During the war he reached not only Sarajevo, but Tuzla and many more destinations, as well, through gorges, roadless areas and tunnels, and he also traveled abroad to London, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, everywhere he was invited to say his word, to pray for reconciliation, to offer himself as the pledge for democratic and nonviolent coexistence.

In those years he neglected his theoretical work and was completely dedicated to solidarity with the war victims and those who raised their voices against war. Till the day he died he actively cooperated with the antinationalist organizations in Bosnia and Croatia and throughout Europe trying to establish the basis for open civil society and reestablish communication among the nations, torn by war.

He suddenly died in Belgrade on February 27th 1997.

Professor Zivotic is considered the greatest Yugoslav axiologist. His books that have been published are: "Pragmatism and Contemporary Philosophy" in 1966; "Man and Values" in 1969; "Existence Reality and Freedom" in 1973; "Revolution and Culture" in 1982; "Axiology" in 1986; "Morality, Legality and Legitimacy" in 1989 and posthumously "Contra Bellum" in 1997.


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