The Cost of Past-Oriented Thinking (1999)

By Ivana Milojević

The University of Queensland

The inability for futures thinking – at individual, group, national and global levels – to forecast, develop scenarios and alternatives has cost the former-Yugoslavia (SFRJ) hundreds of thousands of lives, millions of displaced persons, the destruction of the environment and economy and probably over 20 millions of wounded minds. The legacy for the future generations is a return to centuries old divisions, hatreds and mistrust. To recreate the past cycles of destruction future generations will have plenty of material to draw upon. To this day neither side involved in the conflict has claimed their responsibility for the conflict and the discourse of victimhood is still prevalent. The beginning of true reconciliation is nowhere in site. Furthermore, the inability for futures thinking and the lack of institutional foresight capacity has cost the current Yugoslavia (FRJ) three months of intensive bombing, around 1400 civilian lives claimed by NATO bombs, destruction of environment and around 50 billion dollars in damages.

The obsession with the past has cost the Serbian people the loss of territories and expulsion of its own people, as well as migration of young professionals. Also lost has been the virtue of common sense and the ability to empathize with the hurts of others. The inheritance for future generations is the passing of the legacy of totalitarian state, and the legacy of ethnic cleansing as well as the cost of ruined respect in the eyes of international community. More then just ruined respect, additional cost for Serbs is that now they are as a group equated with evil. And then there is a cost of having to come to terms with killings, rapes, expulsion and torture perpetrated against “the other”.

As for the outside world, namely Europe and USA – the lack of clear foresight led them to believe that recognition of independence for Croatia and Slovenia and then Bosnia would not have the implication that it did. Had they recognised that the conflict is more then less likely would they still seat still with their fingers crossed? Or would they immediately employed peacekeeping troops? Had they been pro-active would they have spent a tenth amount of how much the NATO intervention costs to build Yugoslav economy and support new democracies or would they still refused loans and financial support to Ante Markovic and Milan Panic? The process of re-building economies and supporting democracies at the territories what used to be SFRJ the Europe will still need to enter to, albeit 10 years too late. And not only the (financial) cost is going to be much higher this time around the process itself is going to be more complicated and more difficult. At the same time, the price Yugoslav people had to pay was huge. And the cost (financial, ecological) for the region significant. The consequences for our global futures do not seem to be so great either as the events in FR Yugoslavia this year have also confirmed:

1.      military solution is ‘the” solution,

2.      there are justifiable wars,

3.      destruction of environment does not matter,

4.      the glorification and development of military sector is a necessity,

5.      the goals justify means, and,

6.      the quality of human lives and human lives themselves can be sacrificed for higher aims.

Many of the current and past events in former Yugoslavia could have been prevented if predicted and prediction taken seriously. For example, had Yugoslav people developed futures scenarios in 1990 they would have been able to foresee some future “developments”. Had Yugoslav people knew what is the real price of nationalistic pride would they still voted the way they did back then? Had they not dug out events from 6th century (migration to the Balkan), 14th century (1389 battle of Kosovo), and unresolved hurts from this one (Balkan and WW’s) they would have been less likely to recreate the patters of destruction. Had Yugoslav people focused on the future they would have realised that the only positive future is the cooperation and peace among themselves. Had they thought more of future generations they would have created better conditions for them living in peace and harmony. They would have developed tolerance rather then division, trust rather then suspicion and respect rather then hatred.

It is a very sad fact that the Yugoslav people have not only destroyed their country, themselves and the choices for the future generations – they have also refused to learn this time around. The last decade of the XX century will go into the annals of nationalistic histories as one more example of them hurting us. One more example of why you cannot trust others. One more example that we have to be ever ready to “defend” ourselves. One more example of why the repressive state and warrior like masculinities have to be tolerated.

Welcome back to the future – forward to the past.