Desimir Tosic: Serb politician and commentator

Desimir Tosic was a Serb politician who lived in Britain between 1958 and 1990. At the end of Communist rule, he returned to Yugoslavia to help re-establish the Democratic Party (DS), of which he was one of the best-known members, as well as its vice-president for a while.

Leader of the DS youth section in the late 1930s, Tosic provided a rare link with the original Democratic Party of Ljuba Davidovic and Milan Grol. This might explain why he was tolerated by the new party leadership in the 1990s, in spite of his outspoken criticism of Serbian nationalism and of the influential Orthodox Church, and despite his not being part of the inner circle of the opposition leader, and later prime minister, Zoran Djindjic. Elected to the federal Yugoslav parliament in 1992, Tosic joined a breakaway group of the DS which stood on the sidelines from the mid-1990s, until it returned to the party fold in 2004.

As an émigré, Tosic was opposed to the Communist regime of Marshal Tito, but he was no ideological or vindictive anti-Communist. Unlike most Serb émigrés, he never advocated a return to the ancien régime and argued that Communists had genuine support in the country. In the 1970s, he wrote that when changes eventually took place, they should be carried out, initially at least, together with reformed Communists. This is indeed what happened across most of east-central Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but not in Serbia, where Slobodan Milosevic took control of the renamed ruling party.

Born in 1920 in Bela Palanka, southern Serbia, in what was then the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Tosic was the son of a civil servant. He moved to Belgrade in order to complete his education. The capital was politically highly polarised at the time, but Tosic joined the centrist Democrats. The Second World War and the German invasion interrupted his studies at Belgrade's Law Faculty.

During the war and the German occupation, Tosic supported General Mihailovic's resistance movement, as did many of his fellow Democrats. As a Mihailovic supporter, he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and sent to work in Germany. He survived the war only to find himself a refugee in France. There he met his future wife Coral, with whom he settled, eventually, in her native Britain.

First from Paris and then London, Tosic gathered like-minded Serb refugees around a group that called itself Oslobodjenje – "Liberation". He edited the Nasa Rec ("Our Word") monthly between 1948 and 1990, with contributions from among others, the dissidents Milovan Djilas and Mihajlo Mihajlov, and academics including the historian Stevan Pavlowitch and the economist Ljubo Sirc. The group also published books, including the first Serbo-Croat edition of Milovan Djilas's Conversations with Stalin (1986). Tosic was the driving force of the organisation which spread itself across Western Europe, North America and Australia. Its activities were self-funded, as western institutions were careful not to antagonise Tito's regime.

Tosic was a believer in a democratic and federal Yugoslavia, as well as in a united Europe. He was an early member of Jean Monnet's European Movement and was also among the founders of the Democratic Alternative in 1963 – a group of pro-Yugoslav Bosniak, Croat, Serb and Slovene émigrés that called for the democratisation of Yugoslavia.

He returned there on the eve of its violent break-up and chose to remain in Serbia, where he became a distinguished voice against war and nationalism. Although advanced in years, he regularly published books and articles, gave interviews and took part in debates. His numerous writings offered fresh, non-nationalist perspectives on Serb-Croat relations, on the Second World War and on Yugoslav Communism. Tosic opposed Serb policies in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, but also spoke out against the 1999 Nato bombing of Serbia.

A Serb patriot who criticised Serbian nationalism, Tosic was an unconventional figure. He was a Christian and an Orthodox believer who publicly confronted the Serbian Church for promoting nationalism. Although formally a politician, he was an enlightened educator whose ideas often clashed with the party line, despite his overall loyalty to the DS.

His critical thinking, sharp words and warm smile will be missed – by family and friends but especially by Serbian society, still emerging from the traumas and upheavals of the past several decades.

Dejan Djokic

Desimir Tosic, politician and writer: born Bela Palanka, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes 19 February 1920; married 1952 Coral Rust (two daughters); died Oxford 7 February 2008.

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