2016 Summer School Participant
Course: From Intervention to Non-Intervention: The Triumph of State Sovereignty over Human Rights?
Serbia? Like Syria? Is that where you are going to attend your summer school? This is the generic response which I received from my friends and family when I first told them about the summer school. My parents were very skeptical about sending me here because Serbia is one of those “obscure” countries on the map. But when I mention Yugoslavia and Tito they immediately nod as they nostalgically remember the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM). Who doesn’t remember the Tito-Nasser-Nehru triumvirate?
On the second day of my arrival here, my classmate and I walked down the Knez Mihailova Street, scavenging around for souvenirs. We stumbled upon a small shop in the middle of the street. I gazed curiously at a 50000 dinar note on display. On further inquiry, the lady placed a 500 billion dinar note in my hand printed during the Hyperinflation period of the country during 90’s. India was the trigger word which sparked a 40-minute-long discussion. She narrated intricate details about India and its polity, monuments, and cities. “I watched the funeral of Indira Gandhi on TV here in Belgrade,” she said declaring her admiration towards the third Prime minister of India. Upon asking if she visited India to know this stuff her answer was “No. I know NAM and Tito-Nasser-Nehru”.
Over the days I made it a point to talk about India during my encounters with many Belgraders. From Kashmir to India’s caste system, most of them were aware of the conflicts India was, and still is, struggling with. The memory of the Non-Alignment movement and the camaraderie of Nehru-Tito is remembered and vividly narrated.
After the success of the Bandung conference (1955) and the Brioni meeting (1956), representatives of 25 countries met for a historic summit convened in Belgrade in the year 1961. The summit was led by Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Josip Broz Tito (Yugoslavia), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt) and Sukarno (Indonesia). The idea of the summit was to bring together countries which didn’t want to ‘choose’ between the major power blocs as a part of the “cold war”. They emphasized on the need for a joint struggle by a group of ‘non-aligned’ countries against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony. Although these countries pursued their foreign policy based on their own regional interests, they maintained that the heightened tensions due to the great power bloc politics presented a threat of facing another war or worse, nuclear annihilation. Most of the nations gathered at the summit faced the brunt of colonialism and were devastated by constant warfare. The movement aimed to provide a voice to the newly independent countries in the process of ‘decolonization’.
Tito was at the forefront in theorizing the definition of ‘non-alignment’. It was primarily due to his efforts that a meeting of leaders representing non-aligned nations at the United Nations materialized in 1960. He toured nine countries before the first conference in Belgrade, urging them to participate in the summit. Although Tito and Nehru had their disagreements on the idea of forming a new ‘block’, the primary objective of NAM was clearly outlined and stated as “[to] create an independent path in world politics that would not result in member States becoming pawns in the struggles between the major powers."
I had the opportunity to visit the “Park of Friendship” commissioned by Tito where every world leader who attended the first NAM conference planted a tree marking a new era of friendship and cooperation. The park was badly maintained and the planks laid beside the trees have almost eroded away. Frantically searching my way through the park, I finally found two planks of Tito and Nehru placed beside each other.
After the end of the ‘Cold war’, the Non-alignment movement failed to find its identity as tensions between the two blocks simmered down and ushered in the era of liberalization and greater economic cooperation. The biggest failure of the movement has always been its inability to find an economic path for its member countries to adopt. The neoliberal world finance institutions co-opted the economies of many member states as NAM failed to provide an alternative.
NAM still lives on as a reminder of the Cold War era. It is finding it difficult to reason out its existence as an organization representing more than half of the global population. The idea and spirit which NAM represented have faded away. The founding countries have changed drastically. Yugoslavia is no more. But the memories of the friendship still remain fresh in the minds of Belgraders and the nostalgia of this ‘lost’ friendship will forever remain in mine.