Blogging Jesenská: Vukša Veličković, Serbia
Inside Gaddafi’s Tent: the Colonel’s Yugoslav Connection
Libyan dictator Muammar al Gaddafi is no more. However, until his very end, he kept close ties with Serbian and Croatian politicians. A Yugoslav connection with tradition. Back in the 1970s, Josip Broz Tito had been a close friend. For the majority of post-Yugoslav states, Gaddafi remained a persona grata as they had tangible economic interests in the North African region.
As the leading country of the Non-Aligned movement during the Cold War era, Tito’s Yugoslavia kept close ties with North African regimes: individuals like Hosni Mubarak and Muammar al Gaddafi figured prominently as political partners and Tito’s personal friends.
Gaddafi’s Libya was particularly engaged in this bilateral economic and cultural cooperation. Among the many African students who regularly attended Yugoslav universities, the Libyans were perhaps the most distinctive. In 1981, a group of Libyan students formed a band called Green Wings, releasing an LP in Belgrade appropriately called Jamahiriya, sung in an obscure mix of Arabic and Serbo-Croatian:
In the same way he had been on good terms with some Western leaders, Gaddafi remained persona grata for the majority of post-Yugoslav states. The countries continued to keep ties with the colonel’s regime, promoting industrial links in the North African region. Apparently, Serbia was (and still is) interested in selling weapons, building armament factories and military hospitals in Libya, whereas Bosnians are currently entering the Libyan construction business, and the Croatians already have nine registered companies in the country, employing 500 workers.
During the 1990s, Gaddafi remained loyal to his fellow autocrat, Serbian President Slobodan Milošević, backing Orthodox Serbs against the Bosnian and Kosovo Muslims. He was seen with former Croatian and Bosnian leaders Stipe Mesić and Haris Silajdžić, as well as with the recently elected president of Kosovo, Behgjet Pacolli and the current Serbian president Boris Tadić. Tadić’s last visit to Gaddafi’s tent was in April 2010, when he congratulated the colonel on his 41 years in power. The previous year, Muammar had presented Boris with a medal.
Although not everyone managed to win Gaddafi’s heart. In what would turn out to be a diplomatic disaster in 2010, Kosovar president Pacolli flew his entire staff to the desert to try to persuade the dictator to change his pro-Serbian stance on the issue of Kosovo’s independence. The Economist reported that upon their arrival to his tent, Gaddafi ordered Pacolli and his staff to sing and dance. When they ran out of tunes, he dismissed them “with words to the effect that he would never recognise Kosovo as long as their leaders remained American poodles.”
And, to some extent, he managed to keep his promise. In the meantime, the Serbian nationalists had opened a Facebook page under the title “Support for Muammar al Gaddafi from the people of Serbia.” The page currently has more than 76,000 likes, about the size of a small Serbian city. Who knows, if only they had all flown to the desert to fight the rebels, their beloved colonel might still be alive today.
Vukša Veličković is a Serbian writer, journalist and cultural critic. He is Creative Director and Editor-in-chief of Bturn magazine and contributes frequently to, among others, Prestup magazine and B92.net. He is also a performing artist and the author of two novels, Gužva (“Crowd”) and Vrt Uzivanja (“Garden of Pleasure”). In 2008, he was a Milena Jesenská Fellow at the IWM in Vienna.
The Milena Jesenská Blog with all posts can be found here.
IWM, 2011. Copyright © 2011 by the author & the IWM. All rights reserved. This work may be used, with this header included, for noncommercial purposes. No copies of this work may be distributed electronically, in whole or in part, without written permission from the IWM.