Aca Devetka never was a restaurant only. In the decisive years of the beginning of disintegration of former Yugoslavia, it was, above all, a place for confidential talks, involving both influential politicians and influential heads of secret services. Not only because it was well hidden within the Košutnjak park in Belgrade, but also because it had a good kitchen with good barbecue and all that made a good Serbian tavern.
Darko Hudelist, publicist from Zagreb recalled in an interesting text in Belgrade’s Nedeljnik weekly the meetings between Ivan Stambolić and Slobodan Milošević that probably took place at this restaurant in late seventies, most likely during the summer and autumn 1978. The former, Stambolić, then became what would today be called Prime Minister of Serbian Government and the latter, Milošević, was still director of major company Tehnogas and, at the same time, the Vice-President of Udružena Beogradska Banka. Stambolić was persuading Milošević to join his political group, but Milošević refused that. Twenty-two years later, on August 25, 2000 in that same park Košutnjak, close to Aca Devetka, Stambolić was abducted and murdered the same day, most likely on Milošević’s direct order. The reason for that horrible execution was his opposition to Milošević. Exactly that period between first political proposals to the banker Milošević and the murder of his long-time patron Stambolić, proves that Slobodan Milošević knew how to choose the right timing for takeover of power, but that was the only thing he knew, everything else for his presidential promotion was done by others. All those who were connected and who did not fully admit those connections, with the fast and fateful soaring of the new Serbian leader, whose pictures replaced those of Tito, whose name was shouted by excited masses of people who saw him as a new Messiah.
PhD Svetlana Slapšak writes that they accepted Milošević as leader also because they were convinced that they found a good representative for their ideas that would bring communist rule down, because he was a communist. PhD Latinka Perović is of a similar opinion, suggesting that not only that Milošević enabled the publication of the Memorandum (of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1986, that was at first banned by the then Serbian Government), but he himself also, became a product of the atmosphere that created the Memorandum.
The amendments to the Yugoslav Constitution adopted in 1974 were seen, primarily in Serbia, as the Professor of the Belgrade Faculty of Law PhD Mihajlo Đurić put it then, as “an attempt of disintegration of Serbs, because the Serb borders were neither national, nor historic and, in accordance with that, the borders of all other republics were more of administrative than political nature”. “That is why”, professor Đurić said, “the perception of those borders as those of states is unsustainable.” Because “no Yugoslav republic, except perhaps Slovenia, had adequate borders, and that was particularly true in the case of the Republic of Serbia, because, in the case of division, Serb people would be divided into four or five republics, and they would not perceive any of those as their hearth and home.”
The Constitution adopted in 1974 was seen as the beginning of the end of Yugoslavia, which was perceived by them as greater Serbia.
PhD Jože Pirjevec, in his book “Yugoslav Wars 1991-2001”, illustrates this perception with the thesis that the Serbian politicians had similar ambitions already in the first half of the 19th century and such ambitions were later cherished by the generations of patriots, convinced that the mission of the small Serbian Kingdom was to become a core of a much bigger state. Those ideas, Pirjevec, continued, received an international recognition in April 2015, when the Entente powers determined the future borders for the Karađorđević dynasty in the Danube-Balkan area, signing the London Pact with Italy. These borders were meant to be drawn along the Karlobag – Karlovac – Virovitica line, from the Adriatic to Hungary, giving Serbia control over South Dalmatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and a part of East Croatia, with whole of Slavonia.
The Entente offer was simply too poor. The borders of great Serbia were too tight. That was why the then Prime Minister of Serbian Government Nikola Pašić declined the offer because the actual goal was bigger – a state with “Serb supremacy”, that would include whole of Slovenia and whole of Croatia too. And it was precisely this goal that was achieved in 1918.
Pašić assessed that the Serbs could demand and achieve such a hegemony over their decisive advantages: because they would be the biggest nation in such a state and, contrary to others, including Croats, they would have a strong army, but, also, because Serbia already had a monarchy, i.e. dynasty, which Croats did not have.
Due to such a perception of Yugoslavia claims were heard in Belgrade after 1945 that the communists transformed the federative Yugoslavia and divided it into republics, primarily because the goal was to reduce Serbia and determine borders against its interests.
And that led to the question of Kosovo, fateful for our recent history.
In 1983, a small publishing company in Rijeka published Dobrica Ćosić’s book titled “Stvarno i moguće” (“Realistic and possible”), which was banned soon after, because it contained a thesis from one of his political speeches “that there is probably not another small nation in Europe that has sacrificed so much over last two centuries, and in the twentieth century, in particular, for the goals of liberation and huge change in the conditions of its existence… and which allowed for the meaning of liberation wars and victories in the battlefields of this century to be defeated in peace…”.
The political platform for the rise of Slobodan Milošević was prepared. In early 1986 the Presidency of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences established a special commission for the preparation of the Memorandum. That document was perceived as an attempt aimed at saving Yugoslavia “but not that and such as it existed in that moment, but the one that had existed before the adoption of the 1974 confederal Constitution and before the political elimination of the Minister of Interior Aleksandar Ranković at the Brioni Plenum in 1966”, the later president of the Serbain Academy, Dejan Medaković explained. The Serbian authorities immediately banned the Memorandum.
Before the Memorandum, in late 1982 a novel was published, written by Vuk Drašković, the then journalist of the state controlled news agency Tanjug, “Nož” (“The Dagger”). The plot of the novel is tragic. It was set in the time of WWII and it started with the celebration of Christmas and gathering of the whole Serbian family of Jugović. On Christmas eve, a group of armed Muslims bumped into their house, killing everyone except the just-born Ilija. They took him to their village, to the woman of the fallen Muslim fighter, who died that same night and who was supposed to raise him as Alija, a fanatical Muslim, who would slaughter Serbs fanatically. At the end of the novel, when Alija learned the truth that he was actually Ilija Jugović, he heard the bells resounding as “dagger, dagger, dagger”. Of course, the novel was sold out quickly and banned not so soon.
Drašković became a new Serb icon. The icon of new times. In his memoirs he wrote that, thanks to “Ivan Stambolić, who was the mightiest man in Serbia at the time, Slobodan Milošević was appointed at the helm of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Serbia, which was, at the time, the biggest Yugoslav republic…”. Serbia was shaking. Columns of Serbs were coming from Kosovo to Belgrade demanding freedom and the sword of mother Serbia. Ivan Stambolić (who was, at the time, already President of the Presidency of the Socialist Republic of Serbia) tried to put down the Kosovo fires and launched an ideological offensive against the Memorandum and the notable figures of the Academy.
Slobodan Milošević for the first time failed to publicly support his mighty promoter and friend, but he also did not oppose him. He only silently waited for the insulted Serbia to prepare a horse for him and place the rider in the saddle. And then to continue with the glorification of Milošević by all, who perceived him as the grand master of political tactics and strategy, a communist, but an authentic Serb as well.
The concept of great Serbia thus got its new political leader.