Bosnia Two Years Later

It was almost nine months ago that I touched down in Sarajevo for my first visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina since my 2013-2014 Fulbright year. Followers of my Bosnia Journal Blog will recall the Erasmus + demonstrations, the memorial observances for the 71 youth who lost their lives in the shelling of Tuzla square (the general who ordered the shelling was released without any charges), and our gradual coming to terms with how terribly fragmented and dysfunctional Bosnia and Herzegovina’s public sphere was proving to be. But, most likely, followers will remember the February protests and the May floods. Now, two years later I have returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina to deliver the keynote at the International Association of Social Science Research (earlier today) and to visit old friends.

IMG_0509What strikes me after two years is that the questions being raised within the social sector have shifted. In 2014 when we returned to the United States, the Dita plant was still closed, Plenum — the social movement that had deposed six cantonal premiers and had generated a groundswell of mass political action — was all but dead, and the future looked very bleak indeed. Then, in Spring 2015, an administrative judge ordered the Dita plant reopened. The rump workforce, running only one line, was selling all of its product to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s largest local grocery store chain, Bingo. Spirits were high. The future looked bright. If only, somehow, the workers could come up with the millions it would take to pull Dita out of debt.

Since then a second line has opened. And the debt problem is still outstanding, looming even larger today, since Dita is actively soliciting offers to purchase its assets.

Two years ago, the workers laid off from Dita still dreamed of somehow reconstituting the old Yugoslav-era self-governing socialist plant. With Dita once again up for sale, this dream is no longer — was it ever? — realistic. And, yet, this has pushed another question to the forefront: since the privatization of Bosnia and Herzegovina was declared during a time of war and, therefore, of contested constitutional authority, were any of the sales ever legitimate? Under what law? Under whose authority?

In the polity of nations that count themselves full members of the global economy, subject to international laws, regulations, and understandings, there is a shared belief that public assets cannot without due process fall into private ownership. This, you will recall, was at the legal center of the public’s case against Ammon Bundy, Dwight Hammond Jr., 73, and his 46-year-old son, Steven, who, under vigilante authority occupied a U.S. Fish and Wildlife facility near Burns, Oregon. Can unauthorized parties seize and occupy, much less deface or damage, public property? If there is a question that better throws light on the privatization of Yugoslavia, I do not know what it is. Since 1944, Yugoslav workers had thrown themselves full-throttle into building what by the 1960s had become the fastest growing economy in the world. The physical plants and products of their efforts, according to Yugoslav law, were owned by the public. Yugoslavia owed much of its growth to the generosity of a US State Department eager to unload as much cheap money as it could onto a world whose consumers it desperately needed to purchase its goods. Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslavia was among the beneficiaries of this largesse. Then, in 1979, in an effort to strengthen the US currency, Fed Chair Paul Volcker raised interest rates to 20%. That was the end of Yugoslavia. All of the unemployment, the inflation, the drastic cuts in social services and benefits eventually yielded precisely the general systemic failure that economists predicted should happen under these conditions. (Hey don’t blame us. We were right, for once.) It was in the context of the general systemic chaos and war that followed in the 1990s that Yugoslavia was privatized. Now citizens of the former Yugoslavia are beginning to ask under what laws and under whose authority their property was seized and sold out from underneath them. It is as though Ammon Bundy, Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son had seized and occupied the public lands of the former Yugoslavia. And, yet, since there was no one minding the shop, so to speak, the theft was retroactively judged legitimate. By whom? On what grounds?

In order to make this legal case stick, however, the former owners of these seized public assets need to mount a political campaign. They need to move a population still reeling under PTSD and near 50 per cent unemployment, a population that, with complete EU, UN and US cooperation is governed by the very thieves who stripped Bosnia and Herzegovina’s assets; they need to convince this population that the courts and the legislature are the right venues to adjudicate their claims. The alternative is the general regional war that more or less publicly everyone now expects; war to resolve the now almost thirty-year-old claims that no one in authority — not the UN, not the EU, not the US, and certainly not the oligarchs themselves — has the least interest in resolving.

Here is what happens in general regional war. It will not be contained. It will spread to Montenegro, to Kosovo, and Macedonia. It will spread to Croatia and to Serbia; Serbia will then recruit its allies in the Orthodox world to once again “defeat the Turks once and for all.” And the shock waves will course up through eastern Europe, reigniting ethnic and religious conflict throughout the region, spreading eventually into Russia. But it will not end there. The right wing in Austria, France, and Germany are sick and tired of US meddling on the continent. The right wing throughout the EU will enjoy a upsurge of support to put an end to US intervention in continental affairs once and for all.

So, what is the alternative? Responsible US and EU authorities need to seize and freeze the stollen assets of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s oligarchs, whose very success depends on their ability to conceal these stollen assets out of country. The US and the EU also need to commence proceedings in the World Court to identify and prosecute those responsible for the seizure of these assets. Finally, property needs to be restored to its owners ex ante along with sufficient resources to upgrade the defaced, damaged, and degraded facilities. After due process, any settlement with the oligarchs will have to include compensation to the former owners in such an amount that would permit them to upgrade and restore the production capacity of their facilities. Should Bosnians and Herzegovinians choose then to sell their assets, this must be done not at gun-point, so to speak, but through slow, deliberate, and open process. Much else also will be required. For example, since the multiple, endless layers of administrative duplication in Bosnia and Herzegovina exist solely as means to pay off political, ethno-nationalist patrons, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s administrative apparatus will have to be vastly simplified and streamlined, bringing it into line with, say, Germany, or Austria, or even France, whose public-private ratios are far lower than Bosnia and Herzegovina’s. Yet, with their assets frozen, there is good reason to believe that the patronage networks will shrink of their own accord. Perhaps then university rectors and deans might actually have to enjoy respected degrees in the fields they claim to have expertise. Perhaps then the police force will assume normal levels.

These changes need to come if war is to be avoided. Still, the good news is that Bosnians and Herzegovinians are beginning to see the privatization of Yugoslavia for what it was: an illegal seizure, defacement, and destruction of public assets and lands. That, my friends, is illegal in any country ruled by law.

A Tuzlan Christmas

A Tuzlan Christmas

Joseph W.H. Lough

IMG_2049My family spent last Advent Season on the other side of the world, in a small city of 140,000 situated halfway between Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Twenty years ago, as the former Yugoslavia was being torn apart, Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats killed one another in large numbers. But whereas other parts of Yugoslavia successfully carved out ethnically pure enclaves suitable for membership in the European Union, Bosnia and Herzegovina remained remarkably diverse, both ethnically and religiously.

Tuzla, is about eighty per cent Muslim, ten per cent Roman Catholic, and ten per cent Serbian Orthodox. There is also a significant Roma population, what used to be called Gypsy. But since, as far as we can tell, Roma killed no one in the recent wars, they are also not counted in the census.

Bosnia is also very poor. It is the poorest nation in all of Europe. Roughly 75% of Tuzla’s citizens are unemployed. The average wage in Bosnia and Herzegovina is about $1.25 an hour, one-twentieth the average wage of workers in the Eurozone.

In so poor a nation composed mostly of Muslims, you might think that there would be no Advent Season. And as November slips into December, the first snows fall, and as the windows on our imported Advent calendars flip open one at a time, leaving only a half dozen or so shut tight, we too, like the Who’s in Whoville, fear that Christmas simply might not happen.


The first signs of Christmas appear, as one might guess, in the shopping malls that litter the city of Tuzla, megastore upon megastore packing their shelves mainly with the kinds of things that poor people can afford; the kinds of things sold in Walmarts or K-Marts in the United States. Then, on or around the fifteenth of December, an army of pink cheeked, rotund, but completely automated plastic Santas appear — literally dozens of them — taking up positions around Tuzla, their hips gyrating suggestively and their mechanical lips chortling English-language Christmas Carols whenever shoppers come within range of their motion sensors. Atop sheets of fake snow, surrounded by a fog of blinking lights, are boxes upon empty boxes wrapped neatly with wrapping paper and tied up with oversized bows. And then shelves upon shelves of Christmas decorations, Christmas tree lights, stockings, garlands, and fake metallic trees — here, in Tuzla, which I remind you is eighty per cent Muslim; Christmas is clearly happening.

Our flat is situated on the fourth floor of a ten-story cement high-rise overlooking Ismeta wpid-photo-2014-05-19-08-26Mujezinavica, “Avenue of IMG_4133Mujezinovic,” named after the famous Yugoslav artist who painted canvases in celebration of Josip Broz Tito’s Partisan fighters and was himself a Partisan fighter before he became a famous artist. They have named our south side neighbourhood Sjenjak, meaning “shadows,” perhaps because of the steep hills that tower above our neighbourhood. Our high-rise lies opposite and next to six other identical high-rises constructed sometime in the 1970s to house Yugoslavia’s growing middle class. I call these apartment complexes “Tito Buildings,” so named after Yugoslavia’s founding father, Josip Broz Tito, anti-fascist leader of the partisans, founder of the non-aligned movement in the 1960s, who in 1958 did something that no other communist leader dared do or at least did not live to tell about it: he stared down Joseph Stalin, and he won. But today, no matter where you go in the former Yugoslavia, you will see these perfectly identical, absolutely democratic, Tito buildings littered about the centres of all cities of any appreciable size. Our Tito building even has a bomb shelter, just in case.

IMG_0948And in front of these buildings, including our own, are engraved marble plagues, each bearing far too many names for such a small city, listing all of those who once lived here, but who do so no longer.

A blanket of snow, real snow, not the fake stuff found at the Bingo Mall — real snow now covers Ismeta Mujezinovica. And along the Avenue, not for our benefit, certainly not for the benefit of the season, real horses jingle along tugging wagons overflowing with hay to feed animals and wood and coal to fire furnaces. The horses and bells feed my seasonal fantasies. The wood and coal do not. The furnaces and their fuel explain the thick dark haze that sticks in our lungs and conceals the sky throughout most of the cold winter.

But it is the third sign of the Advent Season that most catches us off guard: Santas. Real live Santas. But, first, I have to tell you about Tuzla basketball.

Last Fall, when we first arrived in Tuzla, members of our growing circle of friends, none of whom are specially athletic, introduced us to local Tuzla basketball. Two exchangeable marks, Bosnia’s currency (worth roughly one US dollar), buys you entrance to the equivalent of an American semi-professional basketball game. The local basketball team is called Sloboda, which means “free” or “liberated.” This is also the name of Tuzla’s semi-professional Futbol or “soccer” team. The term Sloboda recalls the critical role that Tuzla played during World War II, providing refuge for members of all ethnic groups fleeing from Nazi terror, but also serving as a base of operation for Tito’s Partisans in eastern Bosnia. Nearly a half century later, Tuzla served a near identical function during the most recent Balkan wars, providing refuge for Croats, Serbs, and Muslims who did not want to rape and kill one another, but wanted only for the violence to stop. Thus Tuzla is almost always referred to as liberated Tuzla, Sloboda Tuzla, both the city and its sports franchises.

IMG_1695Tuzlans are huge fans of their Sloboda teams. Yet, without question their most faithful fan is a largish Muslim man sporting a bushy salt and pepper beard who for thirty years has never missed a home game, anchoring himself to his seat well before tip-off immediately behind the home end of the court. This faithful Sloboda supporter goes above and beyond most fans. For he also runs a barbecue stand along Tito Boulevard where he sells tickets to the games.

But it so happens that this čivapčiči-flipping Sloboda fan is also among the most devout members of the local mosque, one of fourteen such mosques that pierce the dense haze covering our city. Yet, whereas most Tuzlans seem oblivious to the ubiquitous and punctual calls to prayer, this man always piously rolls out his mat and sings praises to Allah and to his Prophet for, among other things, Sloboda basketball and Futbol.
I will return to our faithful Muslim in a moment. But, first, I must tell you about an important Yugoslav tradition.

It is mid-November when we begin to see signs posted all over Tuzla asking for donations of toys, clothing, food, candy, and what not. The signs initially strike us as simply one more indication among many that we live in a terribly needy community where relief organizations are doing their darned most to ease the suffering. But this is not what the signs mean this time. The donations, we learn, are part of an annual nation-wide tradition going all the way back to the earliest days of Tito’s rule in Yugoslavia. You see, Tito was not your average, run-of-the-mill Communist. Tito was aware that he ruled over a country whose peoples, while not deeply religious, were deeply committed to tradition. So, rather than suppressing these traditions, Tito chose merely to inflect them ever so slightly. To be sure, not all Yugoslavs were Catholic; and not even all Christians observed Christmas on the same day. (The Orthodox celebrate Christmas on Epiphany. Go figure.) Not to mention all of those Muslims, most of whom are Communists in any case. And you can’t forget the Communists. Tito’s plan was to have every factory select a “Santa” from among its workers every year, largely “for the sake of the children,” everyone said. The workers would then bring various toys, articles of clothing, food, books, candy to the factory during the months of November and December. Then on New Year’s Eve, the factory would throw a huge party for the entire community; and who would be there distributing gifts to all the children, but Saint Nick himself helping to ring in the New Year. And that is exactly what he had done for forty or so years.

But then beginning in the 1980s the economy started to take a dive. And to keep up with its international debt payments, Yugoslavia began to sell off its factories. The new foreign owners began to lay off workers, sell off their assets, and close the doors. No more factories. No more Christmas. It was that simple.

The Yugoslavs, however, were not so easily defeated. Remember: they had stood up to Hitler and then to Stalin. Certainly they weren’t about to let the Grinch of neoliberalism ruin their Holiday cheer. And so what had been a factory tradition migrated to the mosques and to other municipal organizations, and was eventually adopted by the cities; all of the cities, even Muslim cities like Tuzla. Christmas would come. It would come after all.

And this is where our portly devout Muslim, basketball supporter comes in. Because in our neighbourhood it is he who dons the red and white every December, shines up his brass bell, and wanders the streets ho ho’ing and handing out gifts to each and every child he passes— even (and this is highly unusual) to the Roma boys and girls who crowd everywhere with open and usually empty hands. Hearing the bells I run to the window to see what is the matter. He is there right now, across the street, handing out toys.

Christmas is coming to Tuzla after all.

IMG_1753We eventually find a tiny little tree, but a real tree, in a Croat neighbourhood near our apartment block. And on Christmas Eve we invite all of our friends over to bake cookies and decorate the tree, mostly with decorations from the local Bingo, but also with some decorations brought in from Austria or sent by friends. And then at ten o’clock we gather our group together — composed almost entirely of Communists, Atheists, and Muslims — and we trudge the mile or so over to the Franciscan Mission. We are not alone. For it turns out this is what all Tuzlans do on Christmas Eve — Orthodox, Catholics, Muslims, even Communists and non-believers. They go to the Franciscan Mission to celebrate Midnight Mass and to sing Christmas carols.

The friend who brings us estimates that between eighty and ninety per cent of those who celebrate are Muslims, belting out carol after carol singing in praise of the child born in Bethlehem.

“Nova Godina” Happy New Year

And, then, as though on cue, as soon as Christmas is over and as the New Year nears, Tuzla city workers set out to decorate their Old Town for the celebration of the real Christmas, New Years Eve, when Muslim Santas fan out across the city distributing gifts and food to all of Tuzla’s children. Even the Roma boy with the golden voice, singing his plaintive Gypsy songs to unyielding passers-by; even he receives a gift.

Tuzlans cling to this Holiday as long as they dare, which is shortly after Epiphany. But as January wears on the decorations disappear into locked closets in city garages. New Years festivities fade into the background as the banalities of seventy-five per cent unemployment once again bear down on the people of Tuzla.

But today if I close my eyes, I can still see a portly Muslim man across Ismeta Mujezinovica dressed in red with a white fringe, ringing a bell, singing ho ho ho’s to passers-by, and handing out toys to neighbourhood children, even to Roma boys and girls, which almost never happens, half-way around the world in a place called Tuzla.

Leaving Tuzla #2

We have made our way south, through Orebić, a small Croatian village located on the coast of a peninsula jutting way out into the Adriatic, then down to a coastal B&B in Albania, across Albania into mountainous north central Greece, then onto Volos and the Ferry to the Island of Skiathos. All the time I am thinking about Tuzla, about leaving Tuzla, and about Berkeley.

But the preponderance of my thoughts boil down to this: the fate of birth and the injustice rolled up into that fate. If family lineage was placed so high on a pedestal throughout history, determining your career, your station in life, your marriage partner, your way of living and your way of dying, perhaps the reason for the high esteem granted to birth place and patrimony is tacit recognition of this injustice and therefore the fundamentally precarious position of birth. Should anyone question the rights following from birth, much else falls to pieces. By what right . . . ? Well, by no right at all; or that should be the answer.

By what right is it that the individuals born into the communities through which we passed in Albania were all, without exception, living on the edge? By what right? By what right is it that wealthy Europeans and Americans decant onto the beaches of the Adriatic every summer to enjoy what many who live there cannot? By what right? By what right do we have the luxury to spend the last two weeks of our year in Europe vacationing on an Island in the Adriatic? By no right at all. That is the answer.

But I am then struck by deviousness of proclaiming all human beings “children of God” and all equal heirs with the Son of God to the emancipation promised in God’s community. If this is true, then we must count all the principalities and powers who deprive any of these — even the least of these — their birthright enemies of God’s reign. The equal distribution of goods, rights, privileges and protections is both politically and economically incompetent and irresponsible. But justice does not aim to be more efficient, more profitable, more productive, or even more ethical. Justice aims to restore to those deprived of what is theirs the things stolen from them.

Nothing except chance explains the fate of those who have been deprived of these goods, any less than fate explains the luck of those who have been born into the right family, with the right last name. A roll of the dice.

Which is why, as I return to Berkeley, I am thinking about how we must reverse these fates, reign them in, disarm them, so that the wealth all of God’s children are heirs to is returned to them, now, without delay.

Leaving Tuzla #1

It was about a year ago that I began blogging about my family’s and my impending departure for Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the time I was trying to imagine what I would find and what I would think. And, quite deliberately and self-consciously, I openly suspected that I knew much more then than I would in a year when I returned.

That actually turns out to only be partly true. I know much more about Bosnia and Herzegovina and about the former Yugoslavia now than I did a year ago. Moreover, I still feel as I felt then that what the former Yugoslavia needs is more money, more independent education, and more security. As everyone who reads this blog knows, I did not make up that formula. Aristotle did, almost twenty-four hundred years ago. And I still believe that that is what BiH and the rest of us need.

The question is how to get there. And the problem with getting there as with getting any place politically is that it requires the consent and, in this case, the active participation of the governed. In fact, if we had the active participation of the governed, then we could also get the health, wealth, education, and welfare of the governed. Not the one without the other. And the problem, as I now see it, is that this active participation in self-government is not what former Yugoslavs do; this in spite of the fact that for thirty-eight years, from 1952 to 1990, this is precisely what Yugoslavia was famous for: samoupravni, or self-management. In practice, however, samoupravni actually entailed an often delicate balance between real managers and communist party representatives. So long as a self-managing enterprise performed well, party officials kept their thoughts to themselves. But when an enterprise performed less well, the party would step in, often replacing the managers. Workers voted. Workers participated on committees. They were free to disagree both with party officials and with managers. But the real management was actually performed . . . well, by real managers.

Self-management seems then at best to have been a proxy for social ownership, which was not an illusion, but a reality. But social ownership is not the same thing as self-governance.

In a multi-party state, institutional frameworks are established that permit and promote the articulation of divergent and different policy interests and outcomes. These institutional frameworks are specifically designed to winnow these divergent and different interests and outcomes until consensus is reached. In a one-party state such as the former Yugoslavia, this winnowing is supposed to happen within the party. It is as though the Republican and Democratic parties in the US formed two different caucuses under a broad umbrella committed to free market economic mechanisms, republican values, and democratic process. In the former Yugoslavia, all party members were to have been equally committed to a mix of socialized, planned and free market economic mechanisms, republican values, and democratic processes. And, yet, much as in the US, the vast majority of individuals in Yugoslavia were happy to let politicians govern the process while they enjoyed the fruits of their labour. And this was sufficient from about 1952 to 1980, when Maršal Tito passed away.

After 1980 as the economy grew steadily worse, citizens took to the streets. And, much as they might in the US, citizens in Yugoslavia demanded that someone take charge and solve the problem. But, what precisely was the problem? Different segments of Yugoslav society understood the problem differently. But, however they understood the problem, they agreed that up until 1978 they had enjoyed a steady stream of consumer goods, the promise of a home, a pension, a vacation home, sufficient food and health; whereas after 1978 these goods became increasingly uncertain.

Again, not unlike in the US, Yugoslavs were inclined to blame this downturn on their leaders. They demanded regime change. But, since the problem was global, regime change would not solve their problem. Indeed, for Bosnians and Herzegovinians regime change actually exacerbated their problem because when regime change did occur it was accompanied by a radical embrace of neoliberal economic policies. Public assets were placed on the auction block and political offices were packed with the lucky recipients of IMF and World Bank money who then used these resources to create private enterprises — their own — that benefited private individuals — themselves. This helps to explain why when Bosnians and Herzegovinians allow themselves to think a better future for themselves, it looks like the 1960s and 1970s. In other words, what they want is a leader, like Josip Broz Tito, who will impose smoupravni, self-management.

What they do not think when they allow themselves to think a better future for themselves are actual self-managing, self-governing enterprises engaged in governing society. They do not think these self-governing enterprises because in their minds self-government was not what distinguished Yugoslavia. It is not what comes to mind. What comes to mind is a leader who will impose self-government, not self-government itself.

Obviously this does not distinguish the US from Bosnia and Herzegovina. It does not distinguish Bosnia and Herzegovina from most places, where self-government is at best an illusion. So where might Bosnians and Herzegovinians acquire this absolutely essential capacity? In the US, I think of the Civil Rights movement and the anti-Viet Nam War movement. In the former Yugoslavia, I think of Maršal Tito’s Partisans. What distinguished these movements was their broad appeal and superior organizing capacity. And, yet, when I survey Bosnia and Herzegovina today, what I see is a nation whose citizens can clearly think the goals of organizing, but who are completely in the dark about organizing per se. Flash mobs suddenly appear and just as suddenly dissipate. “Interventions” proliferate, but because they intersect history and society at right angles they leave mere isolated pockets on a landscape already littered with craters. Tito’s capacity to reach across lines and help participants imagine a shared future together emerging out of their shared activity in the present; this capacity appears not only to be lacking, but actively, deliberately, self-consciously discouraged, perhaps because mass movements of any kind call up memories that are too horrible to face.

How to get from here to there. That is where I personally am even less certain today than I was a year ago. No one seems to have the energy, much less the imagination, for the kind of political work that is required. And so we seem to be drifting toward the edge of that very horror that everyone fears, another war.

Thoughts on the Unthinkable

I am hoping that I never fully process the horrors of Srebrenica-Potoćari, where for eight days in 1994, from June 11 to June 18, Serbian nationalist troops under the command of Ratko Mladić committed the unthinkable act of genocide, killing over unarmed defenseless men and boys between the ages of 12 and 77. Since the details are readily available, I want instead to relate my own thoughts on this unthinkable deed.

Our guide was a survivor who was twelve years old at the time of the genocide. He could easily have been separated with the men as was true for his cousins. His account was chilling.

I was of course struck by the graffiti on the walls of the barracks that housed the Dutch soldiers who were responsible for the safety of the Bosnians who had escaped to this United Nations “Safe Area.” Even though I had seen the graffiti several times before in museums and exhibits, walking through the rooms that housed the soldiers somehow made the graffiti more real.



I remember a glossy magazine patterned after Home and Garden resting on a coffee table in a cozy B&B that Kirsten and I stayed at in rural South Carolina. Only the title of this magazine was Guns and Garden and in addition to the spreads on picture-book estates and sprawling country gardens, the magazine also featured buxom models in bikinis toting assault rifles. I also remember a bumper sticker I saw on a Prius before we left Berkeley: “I’ll keep my guns, freedom & money.” And I am struck that the strange mix of militarism, misogyny, and and violence that I am viewing in these barracks is probably not all that odd. And I am wondering whether any studies have been conducted about the graffiti in other barracks or dormitories that house soldiers.


But I am also struck by the way that I and the others in our group sprint to personalized stories in the face of this horror. Many of these stories are entirely appropriate, such as the story related by a young Serbian man and his Serbian wife, now living in Boston, who were children when the genocide occurred. The Serbian man appears visibly shaken. He wants to apologize. He wants someone to apologize. He feels terrible. His wife’s family was “cleansed” from Croatia when Croatians decided that they were no longer Yugoslavian. She recalls the terror she felt when the police came for her father. When he was released two years later, he was malnourished and grossly under weight.

Yet, the recurring question, “how could anyone do this?” — a question for which, I believe, there are no satisfying answers — skirts the more pressing question: “How can communities of people do this? — a question for which we have very satisfying answers. I am reminded of the mantra I heard over and over and over again on the lips of ordinary people in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia, in public museums, from intellectuals . . . “the Turkish hoard.” How can individuals who have been raised repeating this mantra, whose public institutions repeat this mantra, whose public officials and teachers repeat this mantra; how can they not murder those whom they mistake for the Turkish hoard among them, those with Bosnian last names? If we believe, as many do believe, that ethics and morality and responsibility are completely isolated from the social, political, and economic worlds we come from — that we are born hard-wired “good” or “evil,” “Christian” or “Jew” or “Muslim,” that these are not choices, but states of being; or if we believe that our state of being, my state of being, enjoys a direct line to eternity; then how can I possibly tolerate those who are not hard-wired as I am?

And, yet, we regularly tolerate — no, we encourage and often even require — the repetition and reproduction of these hateful ways of thinking so as not to offend the beliefs of those among us who are committed to hatred. Or we completely ignore the close connection that has been found between peaceful co-existence and the absence of want, absence of fear, in contexts where diversity is cultivated.

So the question, collectively not individually, is why is what happened in Srebrenica not happening everywhere? Of course, we can point to Syria and to Palestine or Ukraine. We can point to Russian homophobia and to rampant Asian hostility to Africans. We can point to all of these troubles. And we should. At each of these places a Srebrenica is waiting to happen. Which is why Hannah Arendt was so troubled by how terribly normal she found the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Srebrenica was committed by people like me. That was Arendt’s conclusion. Indeed, when we ask what kinds of people commit such crimes or when we seek to identify the kinds of people who don’t — individually not collectively — we are in fact engaging in the same kind of thinking that led to the crimes in the first place.

We should instead be asking in what kinds of societies — collectively — are such crimes less likely: societies that welcome difference; societies where all are cared for; societies where all are safe, fed, housed, and loved. And, yet, even in such societies — even among the Dutch who were charged with protecting the Bosnians — there can be horrific breakdowns. (Anecdotally we heard that among those soldiers who failed to protect the Bosnians, 8 have committed suicide; itself a tragedy.)

Finally, I was struck by the women we met in Potočari who made lunch for us and who meet together for support. Kirsten felt that they were her age or even younger based on the ages of their children. Yet their faces looked worn, sad, haunted, as undoubtedly they are.


Outside of the staff working at the memorial, we saw no Bosnian men in Srebrenica-Potočari. There are none.

The Yugoslav Economy 101

This past week we had the pleasure of sharing dinner with Professor Kadrija Hodzic and his wife Alinka. Kadrija is the Editor of Tranzicija, an economic journal that explores issues surrounding economies undergoing transition. Tranzicija was founded in 1999 as a platform for economists who were eager to critically assess the transition from self-managing socialism to free market capitalism since the death of Josep Broz Tito. Among its first editors was Branko Horvat, the Jewish-Croatian economist who had a larger hand in explaining and shaping the Yugoslav economy than any other economist. But it has enjoyed a team of editors since 1999 from Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Albania who are among the most distinguished economists in the former Yugoslavia.

It has been a genuine pleasure to get to know Kadrija and Alinka, and not only because of our shared profession. They are the only Bosnians outside of clergy who share a genuine interest in sympathetically discussing religion and spirituality. They are both poets. And they both share our enjoyment of good food, music, and nature.

But Tuesday was a special treat because we brought Kadrija our white board and he promptly laid out in broad strokes the prototypical self-governing enterprise in Tito’s Yugoslavia. Here’s how it worked. Any final product is made up of several factors of production. In the example Kadrija used, these factors were cultivating, milling, baking, and selling bread. Each of these factors is a self-governing enterprise. All of the enterprises together establish the value they contribute to and derive from selling the final product. But Tito was a communist. And just how was this system communist?

Well, to begin with the workers own their enterprise. That is to say, when their product (bread, for example) goes to market, they share the proceeds with the state. The workers also own the physical enterprise socially: the farm, the mill, the bakery, and the shop. Beyond this, however, the communist party is also represented on “the shop floor,” so to speak, of each enterprise. The communist party representative is responsible for reporting back to the party about how the enterprise is operating. But the representative does not manage the enterprise. I am not sure how management was initially chosen, but Kadrija was clear about what happens when a management team is not performing well. In that case, the communist party steps in and another team is selected. This means that so long as an enterprise is doing well and prospering, the party is happy to assume a posture of non-interference. But if things go badly, then the party interferes usually by appointing someone to take over the enterprise.

This was not always how things worked. In the immediate aftermath of World War II and the defeat of the German occupiers by Maršal Tito’s anti-fascist Partisans, Yugoslavia adopted the same “soviet” system along with all of the other soviet socialist republics. But, then, in 1952, Tito told the ComIntern that it was going to chart a different course. Of course, this entailed purging those voices from the Yugoslav Communist Party who were more sympathetic with Stalin and then with Khrushchev than they were with Tito. But it also meant that Yugoslavia was poised from 1952 to 1965 to ride a wave of economic growth unparalleled elsewhere in the communist world.

As Patrick Patterson shows (Bought and sold : living and losing the good life in socialist Yugoslavia 2011), this growth created something else unprecedented in the communist world: a genuine consumer society whose members were free to travel anywhere they liked, buy anything they liked, produce anything they liked, and consume anything they liked. And, yet, because they owned their enterprises and returns from sales collectively, they were not only socialist, but genuinely communist. So what went wrong?

Here stories diverge. According to Professor Hodzic, the real problem lay in the fact that workers owned property socially. For, how can “ownership,” which is by its nature private, be simultaneously “public.” We can think of this problem as follows. If we look at the illustration Professor Hodzic drew out on our white board, you can appreciate that each collectively owned and operated enterprise will want to place the highest possible value on its produce and its assets. Its social “property” then bears a high value. So, for example, the farm sells its produce to the mill at the highest price possible; the mill then sells its milled grain to the bakery at the highest price possible; and so on. At each stage in production, then, the value of the collective social property increases exponentially. And, yet, at the end of the day, someone — in fact the workers — will buy a loaf of bread able to bear the cost of all of these stages of production extending all the way back to the farm. In order for workers to bear the relatively high cost for commodities, they must be sufficiently compensated. And this means that economic growth must increase at a rate not greater than wage and price expansion.


This, in fact, is precisely what happened between 1952 and 1972. In other words, the implicit inflation was concealed behind unprecedented economic growth. According to Professor Hodzic, however, this was a ticking time bomb. Only if workers had been subject to the constraints imposed by real property ownership, where the value of assets cannot be underwritten by national economic growth and inflation, would they have had an incentive to hold prices in check. Instead, Yugoslavians had to bear some of the highest prices anywhere in Europe.

Unfortunately, this story largely ignores the real growth and real efficiencies producing that growth, focusing instead on the property and price mechanism. So, another way to inflect the period 1952 through 1972 is through the metric of time. Yugoslav workers were becoming incredibly efficient. But just as elsewhere in non-socialist and non-communist societies, Yugoslavs elected to spend their efficiency not by seizing time back from working time, transferring the difference to leisure time, but by plowing these efficiencies back into production and consumption. Short of the margin — i.e., short of market saturation — this means that prices and wages are safe so long as rates of growth continue unabated. Yet, once the margin is reached, continued growth can only lead to a decline in overall rates of profit, prices, wages, and so on.

This story differs from the story Professor Hodzic related because, where his story focused on property ownership, a focus that presumably would hold true only for economies with socialized property ownership, this story focuses on time-labour-value relations, relations that would hold good in the rest of the world as well. And, as a matter of fact, when the Yugoslav economy began to sour in the late 1960s, so too did the economies of Europe, North America, and Asia. And this would strongly suggest that the cause for these problems did not lie in property relations per se, but rather in value relations.


What could policy makers have done in the late 1960s as rates of profit began to decline? They could have “cashed in” on the tremendous efficiencies produced by labour in the 1950s and 1960s, pulling labour from the labour market, but maintaining sufficient production of wealth to satisfy the needs and wants of the consuming public. But this would have required the de-coupling of private ownership from value. Note that asset values everywhere began to plummet in the late 1960s and early 70s. And this shows that even where property was “socially” owned, it was nevertheless pegged to labour-time-expended. This meant that as full production (and in fact overproduction) was reached, this by necessity meant a decline not only in labour value, but also in property value.

If, by contrast, property were completely removed from the equation — if it reverted to material wealth — we could safely withdraw labour from the market while retaining wealth.

This is not what happened. What happened instead was that throughout the 1960s western investors continued to believe in the Yugoslav miracle, plowing millions of dollars into the Yugoslav economy. With the slowdown in the world economy, this miracle began to evaporate. But then in 1972, Nixon pulled the Dollar from the Gold Standard, releasing another flood of cheap US dollars. Tito snapped up this “free” money. And so, the Yugoslav economy gained a second life.

Did anyone during this period ask what would happen, as was almost certain, when the US reigned in its dollar supply? Did anyone wonder what would happen to the Yugoslav debt? I don’t know. I am eager to find out.

What is certain is that all of the efficiencies of the 1950s and 1960s were completely lost, sold as near worthless assets and junk bonds during the 1980s and 1990s. Would private ownership have prevented this mass privatization of public assets? By definition, it seems unlikely.

In any event, I will have the pleasure of continuing to explore these issues as the most recent addition to the editorial board of Tranzicija.

A Very Old Mosque

One headline in Saturday’s New York Times reads “Power Struggles in the Middle East Exploit Islam’s Ancient Sectarian Rift.” As I am led through a mosque by its young imam sporting modern western clothes and smart designer spectacles, for the moment I completely forget this ancient sectarian rift. Instead I marvel at the careful detail displayed on the walls of this ancient mosque, erected in 1580, one of the oldest continuously operating mosques in the former Yugoslavia, one of whose original features is the signature three-bay balcony, usually located on the outside of the mosque, set apart for women to pray. In this mosque the balcony is located inside the mosque itself. However, it is minutes before the imam will sing the call to prayer and while a long line of men stream into the sanctuary, I see no women. Is it only because it is Ramadan, I wonder?


Questions such as these are becoming more persistent, more urgent, the nearer our approaching departure from this region. Why, we wonder, do citizens in Tuzla and elsewhere so assiduously avoid discussions about religion?

On Thursday, another economist at the University of Tuzla and his wife treated us to Iftar, the traditional meal following sunset when observant Muslims break their fast. It was extraordinary and not only on account of the food. It was the first time in over ten months that any non-clergy in Tuzla has talked with us personally about their religion. Why? Kadrija Hodzić’s theory, which seems to ring true to my experience, is that individuals in the former Yugoslavia identify religion with ethnicity and ethnicity and they identify ethnicity with genocide. When former Yugoslavians conceal or privatize their religion, they are in effect inviting a dialogue with one another that they might not be able to have were they to wear their religion “on their sleeve” so to speak. There is some of this in the United States as well, as, for example, in the decision by local congregations whether or not to display the American flag in their sanctuaries. Ultimately, the decision appears to come down to a question of non-offense. If the majority of parishioners would be offended by displaying the American flag, then it is not displayed. If the majority would be offended by its absence, then it appears. And, yet, there is a broad consensus among the liberal religious — Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindu — that standing shoulder-to-shoulder, arm-in-arm, in prayer and song against injustice, oppression, and violence is an indispensable witness.

When Occupy briefly overran US cities, liberal clergy showed up in droves, praying and singing together in a shared witness to the universal divine preference for the poor. This preference is ironically signaled in the common bumper-sticker: “Who would Jesus bomb?” The answer, of course, is no one. And presumably the same bumper sticker would hold for Krishna, Buddha, Moses, and Mohammed.

Yet, what if you live in a region where bombs have been aimed at others because of their ethnicity and their religion? I was astonished when, in public museums in Croatia and Slovenia, the phrase “Turkish hoard” was indiscriminately plastered upon displays recounting when the “Turkish hoard” appeared and when it was driven out. “Turkish hoard,” really? Even more astonishingly, the curators apparently saw no inconsistency between this designation of Ottoman Muslims while simultaneously recounting the tremendous rise in literacy, land rights, diversity, openness, and trade during the period when Croatia and Slovenia were “occupied.” Bombing the religious and ethnic other in the name of one’s favorite deity has a long history in our region. Shoulder-to-shoulder, arm-in-arm? Not in your life.

The Reverend Kirsten Snow Spalding, my wife, was not wearing her collar yesterday when we toured the mosque. But often she is, almost universally without comment from our hosts. What do people think when they see her at demonstrations and rallies in support of students, workers, flood victims, victims of genocide, and war? In the United States it is a no brainer: God supports students, workers, victims of natural and unnatural disasters. Here it is different. As one sympathetic local Orthodox member of the clergy explained: my presence would be universally “misunderstood.” Misunderstood by his parishioners, who would see him as siding with their enemies; misunderstood by non-Orthodox as a cynical political act designed to undermine the movement’s legitimacy.

And so the divine is compelled to vacate the streets, retreat inward and become a mere private household deity.

But what is clear is that the closeting of the divine is not promoting an end to ethnic hatred or religiously-inspired violence. To the contrary, twenty years later religion and ethnicity continue to top the list for the cause for divisions in former Yugoslav society. And I suspect that these divisions will only get worse. Two things will need to happen in order to ameliorate the situation. The first thing that will need to happen is that non-believers will have to come to terms with the fact that they live in a region where many people are religious. We have to stop ignoring religion or blaming religion for violence. Naming violence does not entail naming religion. It was not Orthodox who killed Muslims. It was not Serbs who killed Bosnians. It was criminals who killed criminals. If they also happened to claim to be Orthodox, then clearly this is a fundamental misreading of their faith and the sooner that Orthodox religious leaders stand up and confess openly that genocide is anathema to Orthodox faith the sooner we can move on. But a large part of moving on will be non-religious resisting the temptation to ontologize violence as “Serbian” or “Orthodox” or “Muslim” or “Croat.” The second thing that will need to happen is that religious leaders will have to step out together to renounce genocidal violence together. Yes, there is a risk here that members of our own communities will misunderstand our standing together with “perpetrators.” But in order to dispel this misunderstanding we need to clearly dissociate the category “perpetrator” from the ontologized religious or ethnic categories to which it has wrongly become associated. There is nothing in the category “Orthodox” or “Muslim” or “Catholic” that makes it synonymous with “perpetrator.” And the sooner religious leaders clearly and unequivocally articulate this fact in action, visibly, the sooner parishioners will also be forced to identify themselves either as opponents of official Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim teaching or as its defenders.

Because when it comes to genocide, indifference is not an option.

Happily the former Yugoslavia has not yet descended back into the kinds of sectarian violence of which we know it is capable. And, yet, clearly, through their self-imposed silence and indifference, both the religious and non-religious alike are preparing the ground for another round of killing. Only open conversation, discussion, and visible displays of solidarity will disperse the building storm clouds.

Adam Smith in Tuzla

Of all sections in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, I think my favorite for the moment is Book I, Chapter 8.
When I shared this passage with Tuzla’s workers last night, they were astonished. For it is here that A Smith openly admits what all workers suspected all along; namely, that their penury arose from an original appropriation of property and capital in which they played no role but whose consequences they must endure with the full cooperation of their representatives in Sarajevo.
The passage begins as follows:
In that original state of things, which precedes both the appropriation of land and the accumulation of stock, the whole produce of labour belongs to the labourer. He has neither landlord nor master to share with him (I.8.2).
Neither landlord nor master. Unbelievable.
But then Smith describes what all of them believe to have been the state of affairs in the former Yugoslavia:
Had this state continued, the wages of labour would have augmented with all those improvements in its productive powers, to which the division of labour gives occasion. All things would gradually have become cheaper. They would have been produced by a smaller quantity of labour; and as the commodities produced by equal quantities of labour would naturally in this state of things be exchanged for one another, they would have been purchased likewise with the produce of a smaller quantity (I.8.3).
Ever greater efficiency leading to ever less work and ever lower costs of goods.
But then Smith throws cold water in our faces. For what if workers in one sector, detergent for example, were able to produce ten times more efficiently than, let’s say, automobile tires, whose efficiency only increased two-fold. Smith describes this possibility as follows:
But though all things would have become cheaper in reality, in appearance many things might have become dearer than before, or have been exchanged for a greater quantity of other goods. Let us suppose, for example, that in the greater part of employments the productive powers of labour had been improved to tenfold, or that a day’s labour could produce ten times the quantity of work which it had done originally; but that in a particular employment they had been improved only to double, or that a day’s labour could produce only twice the quantity of work which it had done before. In exchanging the produce of a day’s labour in the greater part of employments, for that of a day’s labour in this particular one, ten times the original quantity of work in them would purchase only twice the original quantity in it. Any particular quantity in it, therefore, a pound weight, for example, would appear to be five times dearer than before. In reality, however, it would be twice as cheap. Though it required five times the quantity of other goods to purchase it, it would require only half the quantity of labour either to purchase or to produce it. The acquisition, therefore, would be twice as easy as before (I.8.4).
No landlords. No masters. And, yet, because Smith is describing a relationship of commodities to commodities, and labor to labor, the relative “costs” continue to mediate social relations even in the absence of private property or capital markets.
And so we have the 1970s, which every worker in the former Yugoslavia remembers wistfully as the good old days. In fact, the good old days were already heavily leveraging the Yugoslavian future. So efficient were workers in the former Yugoslavia that they had to work less and less for more and more (I.8.3). But because their society was still mediated by abstract labor, dropping prices and a flood of cheap goods threatened to lead to the forced closures of enterprises all across the state. Which is why, when the US pulled the dollar off the gold standard in 1972 and flooded world markets with cheap US dollars, Marshal Tito eagerly snapped up the opportunity. No landlords. No masters. But here the Yugoslavians were leveraging their futures not in order to produce more leisure time, but in order to produce its opposite. The factors remained running full-bore throughout the 1970s in thanks largely to cheap US dollars. But then in the early 1980s, when the US reined in its supply of dollars, the party ended.
What this means for more than fifty per cent of Bosnians and Herzegovinians who are out of work is that their efficiency in the 1960s ended up costing them big time. For, landlords or no landlords, in societies whose social relations are mediated by abstract labor, there is no choice. For although your efficiencies will produce leisure time in the short run, in the long run the compulsion, the necessity, for ever greater efficiency will never permit you to actually claim that leisure. The only solution is full factories — work — even when, owing to your very efficiencies, there is no work to be had.
But Smith does not stop there. A little further on, Smith will describe the very oligarchic strangle-hold that has forced those few Bosnians and Herzegovinians who do enjoy employment to work for only a fraction of the wages on offer elsewhere in Europe:
A landlord, a farmer, a master manufacturer, or merchant, though they did not employ a single workman, could generally live a year or two upon the stocks which they have already acquired. Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year without employment. In the long-run the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him, but the necessity is not so immediate. We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and every where in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is every where a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals. We seldom, indeed, hear of this combination, because it is the usual, and one may say, the natural state of things which nobody ever hears of (I.8.12-13).
Tuzla’s workers are intimately familiar with these combinations of masters and employers and with the distortions they introduce throughout the Bosnian and Herzegovinian economy. They know — as Smith too knew — that this combination of capitalists is “the natural state of things.”
So, is Smith a Marxist? No. Of course not. Unlike von Hayek, or Menger, or Mises, however, who clearly had “drunk the Kool-Aid” as we say, Smith could look capitalism in the eye and call it by its name. For he knew, as these mystics or snake-oil salesmen did not know, that capitalism was a comprehensive, integrated, total system that left no room for what they mistakenly took for “freedom.” Where they strut about proclaiming the freedom of the working man, Adam Smith was perfectly comfortable calling the working man “a commodity,” which, like every other commodity, obeyed the dictates of supply and demand (I.8.39).
Where Adam Smith differed from Marx was not in the facts, which are plain for all to see; but in his interpretive categories. For, unlike Marx, Smith mistook the historically and socially specific relationships of domination and submission peculiar to capitalism for transhistorical, inalterable, realities fixed by the nature of human being as such. And in this respect he differed little from von Hayek, or Menger, or Mises, none of whom were particularly interested or observant students of history.
Marx, by contrast, saw this historical moment as contained and limited, constrained by its own unique circumstances. In some as yet unspecified future, he felt certain that workers would face up to this peculiar form of self-domination, a society structured completely around labour, labour value, and work. He felt certain that at some point human beings would elect to organize their social relations in such a manner as to respect the many, many different ways to judge value.
The workers of Tuzla are still stunned. Men and women who have built their entire lives around labour, stunned at Adam Smith’s honesty. But stunned as well that maybe their future, the future of emancipation, need not center upon labour.

Making Perfect Marks in Bosnia

The boys received their report cards this week. Perfect marks. All fives. Was I surprised? Not exactly. Was I happy? Not exactly.
Look. I know that it is difficult to study in a foreign language. I also know that Averil and Yates probably devoted more time to their homework than almost any of their classmates. (I know that at least one of their classmates, the son of a friend of hours, is a terribly good student; works hard, studies hard.) But I also know that fives are almost never ever given to students in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I distribute them very parsimoniously at the University. And so does my host, Damir Arsenijevic. So what gives?
Without taking anything away from the hard work of my boys or their teachers, I have met with the boys’ teachers. I think I know what happened. Here’s what happened.
Several of the boys’ teachers do not speak English. Some feel guilty. Some are angry that this “disturbance” was thrown their way. “Why didn’t they go to the international school?” Some forbid other students translate during class. Understandable. Not only because of their pride, but also because it would be a genuine disturbance.
Was there pressure from the School Director? Was there pressure from the Embassy? I don’t know. I really don’t.
What I do know is that at my own institution payments are made, transactions take place; professors, department heads, rectors, and even Education Ministers “appear” completely without or with “questionable” qualifications and without any review by their peers.
As many of you know, last week I was preoccupied with teaching at the Medresa Skola, the Islamic school in Tuzla. I taught at the Medresa because that is where the State Department has decided to invest its capital. And I think it is important for the State Department to build strong relationships with Islamic institutions. But here is the problem. In the genocidal wars the coursed through the former Yugoslavia twenty years ago, the perpetrators of genocide differentiated among Islamic, Catholic, and Orthodox Yugoslavians, “naturalizing” distinctions that, in effect, validated the genocidal acts they were prepared to perform. Since 1995, the vast majority of Bosnians and Herzegovinians attend public schools that serve all ethnic communities. However these communities are under attack from small, but militant minorities in each of the ethnic communities. It would therefore make sense for the State Department to offer support to these “mixed” public schools. Instead, for reasons that have more to do with its image-problem among Muslims worldwide (see Iraq, Israel, etc.) than with realities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the State Department has decided to build ties to ethnically defined Madrasas, schools that are already the best-funded and best-staffed of all schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nevertheless, when I met with the teachers at these schools last week nearly all admitted that they worked in terror of being laid off and that, for this reason alone they would not dare consider taking any action that did not meet with the approval of politically-tied administrators.
But, surprisingly, their main topic of conversation with me was the recent court decision in California overturning High School tenure rules. In their view, the court’s ruling shows that California public school teachers are subject to exactly the same political pressures as teachers in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And they have a point. Where instructors do not enjoy independence from parents and administrators, they will be less inclined to teach or submit evaluations that conflict with the beliefs or wishes of these groups. Knowledge becomes subject to power, which, as everyone knows, is a poor instructor.
So, while I am pleased by my sons’ perfect marks, I am terribly disturbed by the politicized educational system that produced them. And, given the recent court decision in California, I have little confidence that this will change when we return to Berkeley in August.

Straight Talk at Banja Vrućica

It makes sense that my first published article in Eastern Europe would be titled “Možemo Li Živjeti Bez Države? Možda” in the Proceedings of the 9th International Symposium on Corporate Governance (20-21 June 2014), The Place and Role of the State in Economic Regulation. The symposium is being held at Banja Vrućica, Republik Srpska, a “wellness center” located outside the town of Teslić. Is the only reason I never went to these kinds of places in California (eg Esalen, Asilomar, etc.), is that it was always on my nickel? Or was it also that I don’t believe these privileged spaces ought to be privileged spaces?


You have heard me talk on these pages of the oligarchs. Well, this is where they hang out. The parking lot is packed with BMWs, Porches, Mercedes — big, mostly black, “penis” cars. Here is where the booze and the under the table deals flow, generous gifts from the meetings sponsors: the Republic of Srpska Securities Commission, the Banja Luka Stock Exchange, Nova Banka, and others. And, yet, surprisingly most of the talks, including my own, were outspokenly critical of the oligarchy, recommending greater state control and regulation, and faulting neoliberalism for economic chaos in the Balkans. So what gives?

First, I am slowly coming to terms with the incoherence of most critiques of oligarchy. Is the oligarchy anti-democratic? Sometimes. But when it serves their interests, they are completely comfortable pitting the populace against the elites. Is the oligarchy anti-state? Sometimes. But when they are the state, which is the case in the Balkans, and where state regulation serves their interests, they are also entirely comfortable pouring more money into the state and through the state to their private interests.

Second, there is a very intimate relationship between the oligarchs and the academics. To be sure, this also holds for the University of California, Berkeley, which is an increasingly privately funded educational institution for the very wealthy. Think Haas and Shell. You want a great public education in California without the strings of private corporations attached? Go to Stanford, which has a sufficiently large endowment not to have to ask for corporate hand-outs. Not all economists in BiH are corrupt. And not all departments. But just as in the US, so in BiH, corporations are sophisticated enough to work all of the angles. (Remember my first paying gig was writing articles for the genetics industry.)

Third, when we are asked to speak at these events, where we enjoy a large, captive audience of bankers, corporate leaders, statesmen and economists, I think that we have something to say that is important. Do I think that what I said will change many minds? No. They know that without financial, political, and institutional backing, economists like me are no worse than a minor nuisance. And, yet, my presence here — along with many others — may serve as a persistent reminder that we are not going away and we are not holding our tongues.

So, what did I say? Look, even our universities treat oikonomia and politeia not as two different ways of governing, but instead as two entirely different fields. In fact, oikonomia mediates social relations despotically. It is one way of governing. Another way of governing is politically — what in Latin is called “res publica.” In republics, equally empowered and equipped citizens govern openly, deliberately, together for the public good. No invisible hand here.

This is what has happened: since 1776 nearly every new state has fashioned itself a “republic.” And some have come close to achieving this goal. By equipping all of their citizens to share in governance and by empowering them to govern, some states actually come close to being republics. But increasingly, most states that call themselves republics are in fact mediated by oikonomia, that is despotically. The Greek word despotes simply means “manager.” And so we could say that most of our states aspire to being managerial states. We want good managers. And we often field slates of candidates with “solid business credentials,” which only proves that they have experience telling employees what to do. That is the way private enterprises are supposed to work. But when states aspire to model themselves after private enterprises, they are no longer republics, but despotisms.

Again, the question isn’t whether there should or should not be private enterprise, but whether private enterprise should provide the model for the state. Does such a model work? Of course it does. Think of any well-run business. The best run businesses even offer employees some opportunity to share feedback. But private enterprises are are governed in a way completely contrary to republican self-government. That is the point that needs to be made.

The address was translated into Serbo-Croatian. The Proceedings were published in Serbo-Croatian. I only hope that someone was listening.