Primary Sources

Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences (SANU) Memorandum, 1986


Dobrica Ćosić is a member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and is considered by many to be its most influential member. While Ćosić has been credited with writing the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, which appeared in unfinished fashion in the Serbian public in 1986, he in fact was not responsible for its writing.

Ćosić's long life has meant a long involvement in the evolution of the political life of Yugoslavia. He fought against the Nazis as a communist partisan and joined Tito's government following the war. As the Tito regime gradually decentralized administration of Yugoslavia after 1963, Ćosić grew convinced that the Serbian population of the state was imperiled. In May 1968, he gave a speech in which he condemned then-current nationalities policy in Yugoslavia. He was especially upset at the regime's inclination to grant greater autonomy to Kosovo and Vojvodina. Thereafter he acted as a dissident.

In the 1980s, following the death of Tito, Ćosić helped organize and lead a movement whose original goal was to gain equality for Serbia in the Yugoslav federation, but which rapidly became more nationalistic and aggressive. He was especially enthusiastic in his advocacy of the rights of the Serbian and Montenegrin populations of Kosovo. In 1989 he endorsed the leadership of Slobodan Milošević, and two years later he helped raise Radovan Karadžić to the leadership of the Bosnian Serbs. When war broke out in 1991, he supported the Serbian effort.

The Memorandum outlines many of the fears and tensions that developed within the former Yugoslavia as the Federated state began to fragment in the mid-1980's. At turns both strongly partisan and insecure, the document clearly calls Serbians to act forcefully to protect their threatened identity, if not existence.


Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, Memorandum 1986, 1986, Haverford College (accessed February 4, 2009).

Primary Source—Excerpt

Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences (SANU) Memorandum 1986
[The President of SANU at this time was Dobrica Cosic.]

There is deep concern in Yugoslavia because of stagnating social development, economic difficulties, growing social tensions, and open inter-ethnic clashes. A serious crisis has engulfed not only the political and economic arenas, but Yugoslavia's entire system of law and order as well. Idleness and irresponsibility at work, corruption and nepotism, a lack of confidence in and disregard for the law, bureaucratic obstinacy, growing mistrust among individuals, and increasingly arrogant individual and group egoism have become daily phenomena. The resulting blow to moral values and to the reputation of leading public institutions and a lack of faith in the competence of decision-makers have spread apathy and bitterness among the public and produced alienation from all the mainstays and symbols of law and order. An objective examination of Yugoslav reality suggests that the present crisis may end in social shocks with unforseeable consequences, including such a catastrophic eventuality as the fragmentation of the Yugoslav state. No one can close his eyes to what is happening and to what may happen. Certainly, our nation's oldest institute of scientific and cultural creativity cannot do so.


No one needs convincing that separatism and nationalism are active on the social scene, but there is insufficient understanding of the fact that such trends have been made ideologically possible by the Constitution of 1974. The constant reinforcement of and the competition engendered by separatism and nationalism have driven the (ethnic) nations further from one another to a critical degree. The manipulation of language and the confinement of scientific and cultural professionals within the ranks of the republics and regions are sorry signs of the growing power of particularism. All new ethnogeneses are unfortunate products of locally closed, regional ideologies and shackled logic, and they are also symptomatic of a retreat from a common past, a common present, and a common future. It is as if everyone wished to flee as fast and as far as possible from a collapsing house. Mental attitudes warn us that the political crisis has reached the critical point, threatening the complete destabilization of Yugoslavia. Kosovo is the clearest expression of this.


No form of political oppression and discrimination on the basis of nationality is properly acceptable in modern society. The Yugoslav solution to the nationalities question could be considered at its inception an exemplary model of a multinational federation in which the principle of the unity of the state and state policy was successfully joined with the principle of the political and cultural autonomy of nationalities and national minorities. During the past two decades the principle of unity has become progressively weaker and the principle of national autonomy is stressed, which has in practice changed into a sovereignty of the parts (republics, which are not ethnically homogenous as a rule). The weaknesses that were present in the model from the beginning became more and more visible. All nations are not equal: the Serbian nation, for example, did not obtain the right to its own state. Unlike national minorities, portions of the Serbian people, who live in other republics in large numbers, do not have the right to use their own language and alphabet, to organize politically and culturally, and to develop the unique culture of their nation. The unstoppable persecution of Serbs in Kosovo in a drastic manner shows that those principles that protect the autonomy of a minority (Albanians) and not applied when it comes to a minority within a minority (Serbs, Montenegrins, Turks and Gypsies in Kosovo). Considering the existing forms of national discrimination, present-day Yugoslavia cannot be considered a democratic state.

Yugoslavia is seen less as a community of citizens, nations and nationalities all equal before the law, and more as a community of eight equal territories. But even this variety of equality does not apply to Serbia because of its special legal and political position which reflects the tendency to keep the Serbian nation under constant supervision. The guiding principle behind this policy has been "a weak Serbia, a strong Yugoslavia" and this has evolved into an influential mind-set: if rapid economic growth were permitted the Serbs, who are the largest nation, it would pose a danger to the other nations of Yugoslavia. And so all possibilities are grasped to place increasing obstacles in the way of their economic development and political consolidation. One of the most serious of such obstacles is Serbia's present undefined constitutional position, so full of internal conflicts.

The Constitution of 1974, in fact, divided Serbia into three parts. The autonomous provinces within Serbia were made equal to the republics, save that they were not defined as such and that they do not have the same number of representatives in the various bodies of the federation. They make up for this shortcoming by being able to interfere in the internal relations of Serbia proper through the republic's common assembly (while their assemblies remain completely autonomous). The political and legal position of Serbia proper is quite vague-Serbia proper is neither a republic nor a province. Relationships in the republic of Serbia are quite confused. The Executive Council, which is a body of the republic's assembly, is in fact the Executive Council for Serbia proper. This is not the only absurdity in the limitation of authority. The excessively broad and institutionally well established autonomy of the provinces has created two new fissures within the Serbian nation. ....


The expulsion of the Serbian nation from Kosovo bears spectacular witness to its historic defeat. In the spring of 1981 a very special, but nevertheless open and total war, prepared by administrative, political, and legal changes made at various periods, was declared against the Serbian people. Waged through the skilful application of various methods and tactics, with a division of functions, and with the active, not merely passive, and little concealed support of certain political centers within Yugoslavia (more pernicious than the support coming from outside), this open war, which has yet to be looked in the face and called by its proper name, has been continuing for almost five years. ... Its present form, disguised with a new content, is proceeding more successfully and is moving towards a victorious outcome. A final showdown with neo-fascism did not materialize; all of the measures so far taken have only removed the expression of this aggression from the streets and in fact, its racially motivated and unretracted goals, which are being sought after by all means and at all costs, have only been reinforced. Deliberately drastic sentences are even pronounced on young offenders in order to incite and inflame inter-ethnic hatreds.

The physical, political, legal and cultural genocide perpetrated against the Serbian population of Kosovo and Metohija is the greatest defeat suffered by Serbia in the wars of liberation she waged between Orasac in 1804 and the uprising of 1941. Responsibility for this defeat falls primarily on the still living Comintern heritage in the nationalities policy of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and on the acquiescence of Serbian communists in this policy and on the exorbitant ideological and political delusion, ignorance, immaturity, and chronic opportunism of an entire generation of post-war Serbian politicians, always on the defensive and always more concerned with the opinions others have of them and of their hesitant explanations of Serbia's position than with the true facts affecting the future of the nation that they lead.

Kosovo is not the only region in which the Serbian nation is being pressured by discrimination. The absolute (and not merely relative) fall in the number of Serbs in Croatia is sufficient proof of this assertion. According to the 1948 census there were 543,795 Serbs in Croatia (14.48% of the total). According to the 1981 census their number has been reduced to 531,502 or only 11.5% of the total number of inhabitants in Croatia. Over 33 peacetime years the number of Serbs in Croatia has declined, even in relation to the immediate post-war period when the first census was taken and when the effects of the war on the number of Serbian inhabitants in Croatia was well known.


With the exception of the Independent State of Croatia from 1941- 45, Serbs in Croatia have never been as persecuted in the past as they are now. The solution to their national position must be considered an urgent political question. In so much as a solution cannot be found,the results could be disastrous, not just in relation to Croatia, but to all of Yugoslavia.


Complete national and cultural integrity of the Serbian people is their historic and democratic right, no matter in which republic or province they might find themselves living. The attainment of equality and an independent development have profound historical meaning for the Serbian people. In less than fifty years, over two successive generations, the Serbian nation has been exposed to such severe trials-twice exposed to physical extermination, to forced assimilation, to religious conversion, to cultural genocide, to ideological indoctrination, and to the denigration and renunciation of their own traditions beneath an imposed guilt complex, and thereby disarmed intellectually and politically, that they could not but leave deep spiritual wounds that cannot be ignored as this century of the great technological takeoff draws to a close. In order to have a future in the international family of cultured and civilized nations, the Serbian nation must have an opportunity to find itself again and become a historical agent, must re-acquire an awareness of its historical and spiritual being, must look its economic and cultural interests square in the eyes, and must find a modern social and national program that will inspire this generation and generations to come.


The position of equality that Serbia must strive for presupposes the same initiative in deciding on key political and economic issues as enjoyed by others. Four decades of Serbian passivity have been bad for Yugoslavia as a whole by failing to contribute ideas and critical appraisals based on her longer state tradition, enhanced feeling for national independence, and rich experience in struggling against home-grown usurpers of political freedom. Unless the Serbian nation within Serbia participate on an equal footing in the entire process of decision making and implementation, Yugoslavia cannot be strong--and Yugoslavia's very existence as a democratic, socialist community will be called into question.

An entire period in the development of the Yugoslav community and of Serbia has clearly ended in a historically worn-out ideology, overall stagnation, and ever more obvious regression in the economic, political, moral, and cultural spheres. Such a situation imperatively requires a profound and well-thought out, rationally grounded, and decisively implemented reform of the entire governmental structure and social organization of the Yugoslav community of nations, and speedy and beneficial integration into the modern world through social democracy. The human resources of the entire country must be involved to the utmost extent in social reform in order that we may become a productive, enlightened, and democratic society capable of existing on the fruits of our own labor and creativity and able to make our fair contribution to the human race.

The Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences is taking this occasion to express once again its willingness to promote this portentous undertaking and the historical aspirations of our generation with all the resources at its disposal.

How to Cite this Source

Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, "Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences (SANU) Memorandum, 1986," Making the History of 1989, Item #674, (accessed January 22 2022, 12:39 pm).

Associated Files