8th Session of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia

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8th Session of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia
Slobodan Milošević, who is sitting in the back, and Ivan Stambolić, who is giving the speech, at the 8th Session of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia
Slobodan Milošević (back) and Ivan Stambolić (front) at the 8th Session
Native name
  • Осма седница Централног комитета Савеза комуниста Србије
  • Osma sednica Centralnog komiteta Saveza komunista Srbije
Date23–24 September 1987 (1987-09-23 – 1987-09-24)
LocationBelgrade, SR Serbia, SFR Yugoslavia
TypePolitical session
Organised byLeague of Communists of Serbia

The Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia (SKS) held its 8th Session in Belgrade on 23–24 September 1987. This session proved to be a turning point in the history of Serbia and Yugoslavia, as it marked the rise of Slobodan Milošević as the key force in Serbian politics.

Following the death of Josip Broz Tito in 1980, Yugoslavia experienced an economic crisis and ethnic riots in the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ivan Stambolić and his protégé Slobodan Milošević rose through the ranks of SKS. Stambolić, a political reformist, became the president of the SKS Presidency in 1984, while Milošević became the president of the League of Communists of Belgrade City Commission. Milošević succeeded Stambolić as the president of the SKS Presidency in 1986, and Dragiša Pavlović, another protégé of Stambolić, was chosen as Milošević's replacement for Belgrade.

Amidst the tensions in Kosovo Polje, Milošević was sent to the town in April 1987 where he embraced populism and became increasingly critical of Stambolić's and Pavlović's moderate views on Kosovo. After Pavlović's press conference on the Paraćin massacre on 11 September, a closed session of the presidency of the Central Committee of SKS was then held from 18 to 20 September, at which Pavlović's comments were discussed and a letter supportive of Pavlović written by Milošević's ally Dušan Mitević was presented to the attendees as allegedly written by Stambolić; Pavlović was voted off the presidency of the Central Committee at the closed session.

Later, on 23–24 September, the Central Committee of SKS convened for its 8th Session and voted to dismiss Pavlović and four other Stambolić's allies from the City Commission of the League of Communists of Belgrade. Stambolić would survive the plenum but was dismissed in December 1987, which signalled Milošević's successful consolidation of power within the SKS and Serbia. The removal of Pavlović, Stambolić, and others was done in accordance with formal procedures. Despite this, some scholars and journalists, such as Dejan Jović, Jasna Dragović-Soso, Slaviša Lekić, and Zoran Pavić refer to Pavlović's removal as an internal coup d'état or a purge. Stambolić later tried to make a political comeback in the September 2000 general election but was eventually assassinated on the orders of Milošević, a month before the election.


Post-World War II[edit]

After World War II, the Communist Party, under Josip Broz Tito's leadership, seized power and established a socialist state in Yugoslavia.[1] Each constituent republic had its own branch of the Communist party, with Serbia having the Communist Party of Serbia.[2] The federal Communist party was renamed the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (SKJ) at its 6th Congress in 1952.[3] Its branches did the same; the Communist Party of Serbia became the League of Communists of Serbia (SKS).[4]

Upon the death of Tito, Yugoslavia experienced an economic crisis, constitutional problems, and a rise in ethnic nationalism.[5] To reduce its debt, Yugoslavia implemented austerity measures.[6] Despite government efforts, the debt, inflation, and unemployment all increased during the 1980s.[7] Additionally, the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo experienced ethnic riots in 1981, which was clamped down on by authorities.[8] Kosovo Albanian demonstrators demanded the formation of the Republic of Kosovo, which would have the same constitutional rights as the other constituent republics of Yugoslavia.[9] The SKS leadership responded to the protests by purging the League of Communists of Kosovo and University of Pristina.[10] These riots have been interpreted by Dejan Jović as "the beginning of the deep state crisis in Yugoslavia, one that would lead to its dissolution".[11] Publicist and political analyst Zlatoje Martinov somewhat concurs, claiming that the constituent republicans throughout the 1980s evolved into "de facto states with their own armed forces".[12]

The Stambolić–Milošević relationship[edit]

Slobodan Milošević talking to Ivan Stambolić during the 10th Congress of the League of Communists of Serbia
Slobodan Milošević (left) was the protégé of Ivan Stambolić (right). This image was taken during the 10th SKS Congress in May 1986, at which Milošević succeeded Stambolić as the president of the SKS Presidency.

In the 1960s, the Faculty of Law of the University of Belgrade was known for enrolling students who would go on to become high-ranking politicians in Serbia.[13] Slobodan Milošević enrolled there in 1960 and met Ivan Stambolić with whom he soon formed a close bond.[14] After finishing his studies, Milošević became Stambolić's protégé.[15] For instance, when Stambolić became the director of Tehnogas, an industrial gas company, in 1965, he appointed Milošević as the assistant director at Tehnogas.[16] When Stambolić left Tehnogas, Milošević became its director.[17] Later in 1978, when Stambolić became the prime minister of Serbia, he appointed Milošević as director of Beobank, one of the leading banks of Yugoslavia at the time.[18]

Stambolić was seen as a reformist and anti-nationalist.[19] Upon the expiration of his mandate as prime minister in 1982, he was appointed president of the League of Communists of Belgrade City Commission.[20] Later that same year, Milošević entered politics after being appointed head of the Stari Grad SKS committee; he left his position as the director of Beobank in December 1983.[21] Stambolić was elected president of the SKS Presidency in April 1984, becoming the leader of the SKS. Milošević was appointed as his successor to his previous position.[22]

Milošević was considered to be a technocrat, but inside the City Commission, he began initiating campaigns against liberals and dissidents.[23] Miloš Vasić [sh], a journalist and co-creator of the Vreme magazine, described Milošević's actions as Stalinist, saying that he "talked about 'people's democracy', 'great steps forward in the service of socialism', no other Communist leaders used this jargon".[15] By 1985, Milošević gained full control over the League of Communists of Belgrade, appointing officials who were loyal to him; he also garnered support from various professors from the University of Belgrade that were close to Milošević's wife Mirjana Marković.[24]

Since the president of the SKS Presidency was limited to a two-year term in office, leading party officials began jockeying for Stambolić's successor in January 1985.[25] Stambolić championed Milošević as his successor and gained support from leading officials, such as his uncle Petar Stambolić, a member of the Central Committee of the 12th SKJ Congress (12th SKJ CC) and the state presidency, Nikola Ljubičić, a state presidency and 12th SKJ CC member, Dobrivoj Vidić, a state presidency and Presidency of the 12th SKJ Congress member, and Dušan Čkrebić, the outgoing president of the SKS Presidency.[26] However, Milošević's candidature was not supported by the reformists, such as candidate Dragoslav Marković, the president of the Presidency of the SKJ Central Committee from 1983 to 1984, who claimed that Milošević would not bring unity within SKS.[27] Besides himself, Marković nominated Špiro Galović and Radiša Gačić as competing candidates.[28] Despite support in some corners for his election, Gačić opet to support Milošević after being pressured by Stambolić.[29] In early 1986, Stambolić tried to win over as many as possible for Milošević's candidacy; he told Azem Vllasi, the future president of the presidency of the Provincial Committee of the League of Communists of Kosovo, that it would be easier to work with Milošević than with Marković.[30]

The presidency of SKS eventually voted 12 for and 8 against to nominate Milošević as the sole candidate for the president of SKS.[31] Milošević was elected at the 10th Congress, held on 26–28 May 1986 and held immediately after the 10th SKS Congress' closure, as the president of the SKS Presidency, with 151 out of 157 votes in favour, while Stambolić was elected president of Serbia by the presidency of SKS.[32] Previously at an electoral session in April 1986, Dragiša Pavlović, a reformist and Stambolić's ally, was elected president of the League of Communists of Belgrade City Commission, as Milošević's successor.[33] Following Milošević's election, Galović told Stambolić: "In the next sixth months, [Milošević] will stab you in the back!".[34] The 10th Congress was the second to last Congress of SKS.[35]

Preceding events[edit]

Kosovo Polje gathering[edit]

Stambolić, while still the president of the SKS Presidency, initiated discussions to solve Kosovo issue in 1985.[36] The Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts selected a committee of academics to draft a document that could address the issue.[37] The draft document, titled The Memorandum, was leaked by the newspaper Večernje novosti in 1986.[38] The document made numerous allegations regarding the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution, including that the Constitution discriminated against Serbs and that there was an ongoing "physical, political, legal, and cultural genocide" of the Serb population in Kosovo.[39] Both Stambolić and Milošević condemned the memorandum.[40]

Amidst the tensions in Kosovo, Stambolić sent Milošević to Kosovo Polje on 20 April 1987.[41] There, Milošević gave a speech, which, according to writer Adam LeBor was in "the standard party line of 'Brotherhood and unity'".[41] After returning to Belgrade, Milošević consulted with officials about the situation in Kosovo Polje.[42] Together with Vllasi, Milošević returned to Kosovo Polje on 24 April.[43] Milošević then took a populist turn.[44] Milošević gave a speech, and then, while walking through the crowd of Kosovo Serb demonstrators, he repeated "no one will dare to beat you!" (niko ne sme da vas bije!) twice to the demonstrators.[45] Political scientist Lenard J. Cohen characterised the event as the "serpent in the bosom".[46] Following the gathering, Milošević's popularity amongst Kosovo Serbs ascended.[47]

According to Stambolić, Milošević returned to Belgrade "as a new man".[48] Stambolić was also appalled by how Milošević sided with one ethnic group.[49] Stambolić had tried to reconcile the nationalists and Titoists but failed.[50] "Stambolić could not make the political leap of faith", Vasić said.[51] After the gathering in Kosovo Polje, Milošević's criticism towards Stambolić and Pavlović intensified, mainly driven by their positions on Kosovo.[52] Stambolić and Pavlović favoured a more conciliatory approach than did Milošević.[53] At a Central Committee of SKJ meeting in June 1987, Milošević proposed the "unification of the Republic of Serbia" and to strip away Kosovo's and Vojvodina's autonomous rights.[54] Boško Krunić, a Vojvodina politician, said that "[Milošević] was very straightforward about the autonomy of Vojvodina. He opposed it".[55] Following the meeting, Kosovo Serbs organised a protest in front of the Federal Assembly of the SFRY in Belgrade, demanding the abolition of Kosovo's autonomy.[56]

Paraćin massacre[edit]

Aziz Kelmendi, a Kosovo Albanian recruit in the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), shot and killed four JNA soldiers on 3 September 1987 in Paraćin.[56] Of those killed, two were Bosniaks, one was a Serb, and the fourth was a half-Croat and half-Slovene.[57] Kelmendi then fled from the military camp in Paraćin and committed suicide.[58] The media, such as newspapers Politika and Borba, portrayed the killings as politically motivated.[59] Stambolić and Milošević did not attend the Serb JNA soldier's funeral.[60] Those who were present chanted nationalist slogans, including slogans against Vllasi.[61] In the aftermath of the Paraćin massacre, Serbs smashed windows of local Albanian-owned business shops in Paraćin, Valjevo, and Subotica.[62]

Days preceding the session[edit]

In light of the events in Kosovo and Paraćin, Stambolić and Pavlović endeavored to tackle the issue at hand, with Pavlović calling a press conference on 11 September.[63] In his assessment, Pavlović highlighted the increasing prevalence of Serbian nationalism and underscored the significance of critiquing this ideology, pointing out its inability to address social issues or enhance inter-nationality events.[64] "We must criticise Serbian nationalism today because, among other things, Serbian nationalists imagine themselves as saviours of the Serbian cause in Kosovo, without in fact being able to solve a single social problem, and especially without being able to improve inter-nationality events", Pavlović said during the press conference.[64] In the following days, Milošević discussed the Kosovo issues with Dušan Mitević, a journalist from Radio Television of Serbia (RTS).[65] Milošević told Mitević that Marković had written an op-ed, titled "Dragiša Pavlović's Shallow Opinions", about the dispute between himself and Pavlović under Politika journalist Dragoljub Milanović's name.[66] With the op-ed's publication, the policy differences between the Stambolić–Pavlović group and Milošević came to light.[67] Dejan Jović referred to the Stambolić–Pavlović grouping as "institutionalists" and Milošević's supporters as "revolutionists", while Stambolić, in his 1995 book The Road to Nowhere, used the terms "cool heads" and "hot heads".[68] There were also other policy differences between them, regarding the proper implementation of democratic centralism and dispute over personnel appointments.[69]

Milošević consulted with Borisav Jović, a member of the SKS Presidency and future president of the Assembly of SR Serbia, shortly after the 11 September conference in which the former told him that Pavlović had to be expelled from the party; Milošević agreed with Jović's suggestion.[70] Pavlović called another session of the City Commission of Belgrade on 17 September where he tried to clarify his political position, stating "Inflammatory words bring nothing but fire. With unmeasured words, only a hysterical mood without a solution that leads to the worst will be created".[71] Pavlović told the attendees that Stambolić wrote him a letter in which he said that if he did not get the right to speak at the session of the Central Committee of SKS, Stambolić would speak in his favour.[72] Despite the SKS Presidency's position, the League of Communists of Belgrade still stood behind Pavlović.[72] Mitević, in the minority, particularly criticised the letter and Stambolić's involvement.[72] The following day, on 18 September, a closed session of the presidency of the Central Committee of SKS was held, with Pavlović's comments at the press conference on the agenda.[73] When officials tried to interpret his press conference differently and present him as being opposed to the policies of the presidency of the Central Committee of SKS, Pavlović denied the accusations that were made against him. At the session, Vllasi, Stambolić, Branislav Ikonić, and Desimir Jevtić supported Pavlović.[74] Stambolić tried to reconcile Pavlović and Milošević, and suggested that "they meet for coffee every day, or maybe even lemonade".[73]

Gačić and Đorđe Stojšić, the president of the League of Communists of Vojvodina Presidency, tried to present a compromise solution but were cut short by Ilija Davidović, an executive secretary of the Presidency of the Central Committee of SKS, who accused Stambolić of writing a letter in support of Pavlović.[74] Milošević read the alleged letter, which was written by Mitević, out load and then criticised Pavlović, proposing to dismiss him from the presidency of the Central Committee of SKS.[75] A vote was then held on 20 September, in which a majority of 10 voted in favour, 4 voted against, and 5 abstained from voting on Pavlović's removal.[74] Milošević succeeded in presenting the letter as a scandal to gain more votes in his favour.[47] He then called a session of the Central Committee of SKS for 23–24 September, at which Pavlović's comments were again on the agenda.[76] Despite calling the session, Milošević was concerned that the Veterans' Union of Belgrade (SUBNOR), which had supported Pavlović earlier, would support Pavlović again at the session.[74] SUBNOR ended up not taking a position on the matter due to concerted pressure by the State Security Service.[74]


External videos
video icon Osma sednica: Rat drugova (drugi deo) The Radio Television of Serbia documentary on the 8th session which includes video material from the 8th session and interviews of political figures in 2017

The 8th session of the Central Committee of SKS was held in Belgrade and was broadcast live on television.[77] 91 officials participated in the session.[78] According to LeBor, Milošević played with high-stakes game at the session that could have backfired on him.[79] Milošević began the proceedings on the opening day and portrayed himself as someone who adored Tito and Yugoslavia while accusing Pavlović of the opposite.[79] He also talked about Pavlović's political position regarding Kosovo, describing them as "soft".[80] Stambolić was the next to speak, and went on to criticise Milošević for cracking on dissidents whilst also calling for "party unity".[81]

During the session, Milošević tried to garner as many votes as possible in his favour.[81] Vllasi declined to support him, and in response, Milošević called him a 'cunt'. Vllasi responded by calling Milošević "a liar and a cheat".[81] Milošević successfully managed to gain more votes partly due to receiving the backing of the JNA army generals represented in the Central Committee of SKS.[82] One of these generals was Ljubičić.[83] Čkrebić also gave a speech at the session, accusing Stambolić of being a dictator.[81] Stambolić denied Čkrebić's allegations.[81] The session lasted more than 20 hours.[84] Because of the session's length, Mitević managed to manipulate the television broadcast by removing or delaying critical speeches of Milošević.[85]

On the session's last day, Milošević called for a vote to dismiss Pavlović from the City Commission of the League of Communists of Belgrade.[86] The Central Committee of SKS voted overwhelmingly for the proposal, with only eight officials opposed to the proposal and 18 members, mostly from Vojvodina and Kosovo, choosing to abstain from voting.[87] The same session elected Radoš Smiljković, a political science professor, as Pavlović's successor as the president of the League of Communists of Belgrade City Commission.[88] Besides Pavlović, five more Stambolić's allies from the City Commission of the League of Communists of Belgrade were dismissed from their positions.[89] After the vote, Milošević accused Pavlović of being unable to tell the difference between Serbian nationalism and the intentions of the Serbian leadership in Kosovo.[90]

With Pavlović dismissed from SKS and Stambolić politically weakened, Milošević successfully consolidated power over SKS, and effectively Serbia itself.[91] According to the authors Allan Little and Laura Silber, the session signalled the beginning of a "purge of everything from the Belgrade media to the head waiter at the Serbian government villa".[80] The Washington Post reported that the tensions between the Serbs and Albanians escalated due to the session.[92] On the other hand, the Croat newspaper Vjesnik wrote that "the public can hardly see any essential political difference between those who remained in the Serbian leadership and those had left" because of the session.[93] Magazine Duga titled their report on the 8th session as the "36 Hours of Sleeplessness".[94]


Monument to Ivan Stambolić on Fruška Gora
Stambolić was dismissed as president of Serbia shortly after the 8th session. He was later assassinated in 2000 on the orders of Milošević.

The session retired Pavlović permanently from politics; he died in 1996.[95] Stambolić was left politically isolated, and on 14 December 1987, he was removed from the position of the president of Serbia and replaced by a Milošević loyalist.[96] On the proposal of Ante Marković, the future and last prime minister of Yugoslavia, Stambolić became the director of the Yugoslav Bank for International Economic Cooperation in November 1987.[97] He remained in that role until 1997 when the Government of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia took over the bank.[98] Milošević was also elected president of Serbia in 1990.[99]

During the 1990s, Stambolić remained critical of Milošević and cooperated with opposition politicians such as Žarko Korać, Rasim Ljajić, and Nenad Čanak.[100] Amidst the 1991 protests in Belgrade, Stambolić wrote Milošević a critical letter in which he called for him to resign.[101] He later tried to make a political comeback in 2000; Čanak proposed him as the opposition candidate in the September 2000 Yugoslav general election.[102] During this period, Stambolić retained close relations with the Šumadija Coalition.[103] In an April 2000 interview, Stambolić said that "[Milošević's] fall from power will be hard and dramatic", while in a separate interview, Stambolić said that "the joint performance of the Serbian opposition would not only mean 'defeat' for Milošević, but a 'debacle' in the elections".[97] He accepted to run as the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) candidate in the general elections, however, Stambolić disappeared in August 2000.[104] According to witnesses on 25 August 2000, after Stambolić finished exercising in Košutnjak, a park-forest in Belgrade, he was thrown into a van while walking towards a restaurant.[105]

Stambolić's remains were found in 2003 on Fruška Gora, where he was assassinated by members of the Special Operations Unit on the orders of Milošević.[106] DOS eventually selected Vojislav Koštunica, who went onto defeat Milošević in the 2000 election.[53] Milošević declined to accept the results and this ultimately led to his overthrow in October 2000.[107]


The 8th session marked a turning point in the history of Serbia and Yugoslavia.[108] LeBor, who wrote the book Milosevic: A Biography, said that Yugoslavia's history could have taken a different route if Pavlović had won the power struggle, stating, "He was the kind of thoughtful political leader who understood that, with the approaching end of Communism, Yugoslavia needed to move towards social democracy and political liberalisation".[95][109] Milan Milošević, a Vreme journalist, said in 2018 that the 8th session left "consequences of which we still feel today", while Živana Olbina, a NIN magazine journalist who reported on the events in September 1987, described the sessions as historical.[110] Writer Jovica Trkulja categorised the 8th session as part of a chain of events that led to the rise of Milošević.[111]

Journalist Nedim Sejdinović [sr] said that there have been several interpretations of the 8th session.[112] Sejdinović claims that the consensus amongst historians and political scientists is that if Pavlović and Stambolić had won the power struggle, the history of Yugoslavia would have been different. Political scientist Ljubinka Trgovčević similarly states that Yugoslavia "might have disintegrated, but there certainly would not have been any bloodshed".[112] Al Jazeera Balkans has also said that some political scientists claimed that the 8th session could not have had a different outcome than the one it had.[112] Political scientists Marc Hansmann, Elisabeth Bakke, and Ingo Peters said that the dissolution of Yugoslavia could have been "a less disastrous" if Milošević lost at the 8th session.[113] Historian Branka Prpa also said that if Stambolić had won, Yugoslavia would have drifted towards a different path instead.[114] Milan Kučan, Slovenia's first president, said that Yugoslavia's fate could have been different if the 8th session had not occur.[114] Vllasi does not agree, and claimed that nationalistic tensions would have remained no matter if Stambolić and Pavlović had triumphed.[93] However, Vllasi also said in 2020 that "there certainly would not be so much bad blood and, most importantly, those who continue to promote Milošević's today".[115]

Dejan Jović said that Serbian nationalist intellectuals supported the dismissals of Pavlović and Stambolić.[116] Although Dejan Jović, political scientist Jasna Dragović-Soso, and journalists Slaviša Lekić and Zoran Pavić characterised the 8th session as a coup d'état, political scientist Marko Grdešić argued that all events occurred by voting and thus did not classify it as a coup d'état.[117] Author and diplomat Louis Sell described the 8th session as a "public show trial", while political scientist Duško Radosavljević described the 8th session as a "classic Stalinist purge".[118] Political scientists Uwe Backes and Patrick Moreau said that the 8th session was Milošević's zero hour.[119]

LeBor believes that Stambolić made a mistake believing that his long-lasting friendship with Milošević was enough to protect him.[95] Živorad Kovačević, a diplomat and former mayor of Belgrade, told Stambolić in 1987 that Milošević was "preparing something against you, behind your back"; Stambolić told him that those "rumours... are completely groundless".[95] After Stambolić was dismissed from his office, Kovačević asked him "Ivan, do you remember what the last words I said to you were?" and Stambolić replied "Yes, you told me that I am stupid" and added "Well, there is some truth in that".[95] Radoje Stefanović, Stambolić's associate and friend, recalled that Stambolić thought that before the 8th session "Milošević's nationalist policy will be met with criticism and people around him will become aware, you just have to be patient".[115] Mitević also later affirmed that he had no regrets after writing the September 1987 letter that was allegedly written by Stambolić.[120] Radosavljević said that Stambolić would have likely "negotiated, instead of going into war" in regards to the Yugoslav Wars.[112] On the other hand, Borisav Jović believes that the session had no impact on the dissolution of Yugoslavia.[114]

In 2017, RTS published a documentary about the 8th session in which Vllasi, Jevtić, Borisav Jović, Smiljković, and Trgovčević were interviewed.[121]

See also[edit]



News sources[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Lekić, Slaviša; Pavić, Zoran (2007). VIII sednica CK SK Srbije: nulta tačka "narodnog pokreta" [VIII Session of the CC of the LC of Serbia: Zero point of the "People's Movement"] (in Serbian). Službeni glasnik. ISBN 9788675497233. OCLC 285216358.
  • Pavlović, Momčilo; Jović, Dejan; Petrović, Vladimir (2008). Slobodan Milošević: put ka vlasti [Slobodan Milošević: Road to Power] (in Serbian). Belgrade: Institut za savremenu istoriju. ISBN 9788674031315. OCLC 462996865.
  • Šuvaković, Uroš (2009). Osma sednica CK SKS: dvadeset godina posle: zbornik radova sa istoimenog naučnog skupa, održanog u Beogradu, Centar "Sava" [The Eighth Session of the CC of LCS: Twenty years later: Proceedings from the scientific meeting of the same name, held in Belgrade, Sava Centre] (in Serbian). Belgrade: Teorijski časopis "Smisao". ISBN 9788687725010. OCLC 751766386.
  • Stojšić, Đorđe (2014). Osma sednica: kako je Slobodan Milošević pobedio a Srbija istorijski izgubila [The Eighth Session: How Slobodan Milošević won and Serbia historically lost] (in Serbian). Belgrade: Dan Graf. ISBN 9788683517824. OCLC 910708243.

External links[edit]