In a parody of the nationalism sweeping the country at the beginning of the 1990s, a Serbian mocked his nationalism-intoxicated fellow-citizens by founding an Association for Reversing the Flow of the River Sava.
On the basis that nothing coming from Croatia was of any good, how could the river be? Instead of flowing from Croatia towards Serbia, the river would flow upstream from Serbia towards Croatia if members achieved their demands. The association's telephone lines were jammed with callers who apparently supported the aims.
Absurd as the story sounds, sociologists long ago diagnosed the condition which results in such phenomena. "We must take quite seriously the warning of Karl Popper that the ideas of new collectivism and old tribalistic logic keep us clenched within 'closed society', society founded on the idea of organic community, whose basis in the case of almost all former Yugoslav republics is the nation," says Vukasin Pavlovic, professor of political sciences in Belgrade, whose book Supressed Civic Society has just been published in English.
Professor Pavlovic recently signed a three-year contract on cooperation with the University of Westminster establishing a joint study in the sphere of political science and international relations.
Serbia was part of a closed society for decades, and the war and international sanctions pushed it further from the model of open society which Professor Pavlovic advocates and defines as a society of tolerance where all forms of social communication exist, and where there are no illusions about perfection of institutions and ideas.
Cooperation with Westminster will enable exchange of scientific personnel, create opportunities to share experiences and, most of all, help young, pro-European scientists from Belgrade establish contacts with colleagues in Britain.
Margaret Blunden, dean of Westminster University, explains her reasons for signing the first British contract on cooperation with a Serbian academic institution since the war: "We can do more by working together than by working apart from each other. This is not the first cooperation of this kind with a university abroad. In the case of Belgrade University, their interests are very close to ours.
"Our Centre for Studies of Democracy has specialised in political theory and theory of democracy. At the same time, this is something our colleagues in Belgrade consider to be a burning political issue at this moment in Serbia."