In the second half of 1980s, my wife Susan and I made a number of trips to the-then Yugoslavia. My initial hope that Slobodan Milosevich might carry out liberal political and economic reforms, which I even expressed in an interview, quickly vanished into the thin air. Instead of reforms, Milosevich’s policies generated the crudest and eventually suicidal form of nationalism for the people of Serbia.
In that environment of transition from one bad system to another, there emerged a ray of hope for Serbia. A group of young intellectuals led by Vlado Gligorov and Miro Prokopijevich was introducing into Serbian political landscape the writings of great Western leaders such as Burke, Locke, Schumpeter, J.S. Mill, Mises, Hayek, Buchanan and Friedman. I went to Gligorov’s seminar. He spoke about Schumpeter to a group of business visitors from USA. I thought that his talk was excellent. I stayed after the seminar and got to know Gligorov. Then Prokopijevich came to see me at my hotel for a brief visit. Instead we stayed together for several hours. Like Gligorov, Miro had deep understanding of classical liberalism, Austrian Economics, Public Choice Economics and the Old Chicago School of Economics. They both were gifted scholars with immense knowledge and a strong doze of intellectual curiosity. They also differed from each other. Gligorov was a European social-democrat, while Miro was a hard-core libertarian.
I invited Miro to my Liberty Fund conference held in a small town (do not remember the name) one-hour east of Vienna. At that conference, Miro commenced a long-term friendship with Jim Buchanan and John Moore. Buchanan invited him to another conference, while John Moore brought Miro to George Mason University for a semester. A year later, Miro and I ran into each other in Dusseldorf. Two days of talking, drinking beer and eating sausages cemented our friendship. From that time and until Miro’s untimely death, it was a rare week in which we failed to exchange emails. In 2004, Ekonomski Anali published our joint paper on “Šta je Dobra Antimonopolska Politika”.
In almost three decades of friendship, I got to know Miro quite well, both as the scholar and as the man. Miro was a very successful teacher. He visited many small towns in Serbia and introduced young people to classical liberalism and critical thinking. Miro even took visiting John Moore with him; once to Novi Sad and another time to Jagodina. In Belgrade, Miro developed several discussion groups of young students. I am sure that those young men and women will take over from where Miro left. Miro also made significant contributions to the success of many scientific conferences. He participated in the series of conferences in Alpbach, one of the most picturesque Alpine villages in Europe, organized and directed by John Moore and myself. Miro did an excellent job at my conference in Dallas in, I believe 2006. I think that he attended at least one of John Moore conferences in Freiburg. Miro was a visiting professor at the University of Donja Gorica in Montenegro, where he introduced young Montenegrins to the writings of Buchanan and Tullock on public choice. He also participated in late Ljubo Sirc’s conferences in Kranj. Enrico Colombatto provided Miro with a very generous grant for several months of research at the International Center for Economic Research in Turin.
As a frequent political commentator on TV and Belgrade newspapers, Miro was an outspoken critic of Milosevich. He blamed Milosevich for the dismemberment of Yugoslavia as well as for civil wars in Bosnia and Croatia. In post-Milosevich years, Miro criticized the failure of successive Serbian governments to initiate free-market reforms. Miro was also very critical of the unwillingness of all post-communist governments in Serbia to address the problem of Kosovo. He saw Kosovo as costly fetters of the future of Serbia.
As a scholar, Miro’s books and papers met academic standards. Miro wrote on about every conceivable economic subject—and his arguments were almost always right on the money. Yet, I believe that Public Choice Economics was Miro’s ‘true’ love. However, I am going to let his colleagues in Serbia discuss Miro’s books and papers. I want to say a few words about Miro, the man.
Miro enjoyed life. Our many dinners at ‘Tri Šešira’ are fully entrenched in my memory. Miro always started with ‘vruća proja i Čačanski sir’. He ate like a Serb, drank beer like a German, smoke cigarettes like an Italian and drank coffee like a Turk. And he chased all of that down with slivovitz. At conferences in Alpbach, he closed the hotel bar. Miro also loved the game of tennis. He was proud of Novak Djokovic. Miro claimed that he plays tennis every day and that he is very good at it. When Miro came to Dallas, he got a chance to prove himself as a player. My eleven years old grand-son challenged him to a game. Miro had no choice but to accept the challenge. He lost 6:1 and 6:0. He took his defeat badly and covered it with lots of beer. Next year in Belgrade he asked my grand-son for another match; this time on Miro’s playing grounds. After losing first set 6:0, Miro sought solace in a ‘kafić’ right off tennis courts.
One evening, while drinking beer in a kafić in Podgorica, Miro and I couldn’t stop noticing the girls around us; each of them looked like a beauty queen. “The girls of Montenegro”, I said to Miro, “are the prettiest girls in Europe”. He was not sure and said something about the ladies of Belgrade. To prove his point, he took me to a night bar in Belgrade. It was really a very classy place full of young people. Miro then brought to our table a girl he apparently knew. That lady was tall and a striking beauty. After she was seated at our table and ordered a drink, Miro said to us something like: “Steve thinks that the girls Montenegro are prettier than our girls in Belgrade?” I had no choice but to agree with Miro. Then I asked the girl what part of Serbia she is from. She said: “I am not from Serbia, I am from Cetinje”.
Miro’s intolerance of his opponents was legendary. He paid no attention to the costs of expressing his distaste for the “enemies” of freedom. He was also quite eager to badmouth his friends when they, in his opinion, got things wrong. And he would not apologize to them for being rude. After all, it was them, not Miro, who sinned. In three decades of our friendship, Miro was often rude to me but apologized only once.
Indeed, I was not easy to be Miro’s friend. As an economist, I prefer to say that it was costly to be his friend. Yet, whatever the cost of being his friend, the benefits were immeasurable. There is no price not worth paying for a friend who is a true and uncompromising fighter for individual liberty; who is an outstanding scholar; whose integrity is unmatchable; and who would go an extra mile for a friend.
While sharp critic of Serbian nationalism, Miro was a true Serbian patriot. Miro’s passing away removed a true intellectual giant and exceptional leader from the Serbian cerebral landscape. He will be badly missed by his friends, his students and the academic community. The forces of free enterprise and individual liberty are poorer as result of Miro’s passing.
I saw Miro for the last time in June 2016 at the conference on the writings of Henry Manne. The conference was in Alpbach, the place both of us loved. As usual, Miro was full of optimism and zest for life. Yet, our time together in Alpbach three years ago turned out to be our last. If so, Alpbach was the right pace to say our last good bye to each other.
Good bye my friend, rest in peace!