This article was published by the Serbian daily newspaper “Politika” 29.08.2006, for the Serbian version of the article see here. Slobodan Antonic is one of the most prominent Serbian political analysts. This article was inspired by the statement of Martti Athisaari, the United Nations Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, leading the talks for the determination of the final status of Kosovo. The Serbian government protested against Athisaari’s statement because it reportedly implied that Serbs are guilty as a nation for what had happened in Kosovo and that they have to pay the consequences of the crimes committed in the past. Thus, that they have to reconcile to the possibility of losing Kosovo. Ahtisaari’s chief spokesperson Hua Jiang told B92 that Ahtisaari would not apologise for his statements because he never mentioned the collective guilt of the Serbian people. “The statement was taken out of context and poorly presented. He never mentioned the collective guilt of the Serbian people. Ahtisaari spoke of the historical legacy, that every nation should have the courage to face its own past. There is no reason for Ahtisaari to offer an apology and that is not going to happen.” Jiang said. [Srdjan Cvijic in green letters are my comments while in black letters the translation of the original text by Slobodan Antonic].
The author of this editorial was there 5th October [referring to 5th October 2000 – Revolution against Milosevic’s regime]. I was not storming the Parliament, but I did throw rocks at Takovska 10 [Serbian Radio Television – used to be a symbol of Milosevic’s regime]. Near by, one young man fell down hit by a rubber bullet in the stomach. It smelled like smoke and teargas. Yet, one could also smell the hope that Serbia finally became part of the West. I remembered this when I heard Ahtisaari’s statement that Serbs are guilty as nation and that they have to pay for it. The topic of the collective guilt of the Serbs was especially en vogue during the 1999 bombings. There were claims how the destruction of Serbian factories, bridges and hospitals, as well as murdering of Serbian civilians was not entirely unjustified. “The vast majority of Serbs”, used to explain Daniel Goldhagen are, “now caught in the grip of delusions, hatreds, an ever more belligerent society and culture, war and death.” In this way the majority of the Serbs, “have rendered themselves both legally and morally incompetent (The Guardian, 29th April 1999). Serbian civilians are those who made it possible for Milosevic to stay in power, hence they have to assume part of the responsibility “, explained Marsha Hepfel, from the University of Tennessee.
Granted, maybe there was some kind of collective responsibility in the fact that Serbs for a long time tolerated Milosevic. But, Milosevic lost the 2000 elections (as he lost the 1993 and 1997 elections). When he refused to recognize their outcome, people dethroned him by means of a remarkable revolution. Serbs, hence, demonstrated that they do not support Milosevic and his thuggish politics. Why are the Serbs still guilty?
Indeed, one cannot help but to ask why doesn’t still the West like us? No, I do not want to simplify things. I know that there is no love in politics and that interests prevail. I know that the main Serbian interests in Kosovo are in disaccord with some powerful interest of the West. I likewise know that there is a bureaucratic inertia to continue to habitually punish those who were once naughty pupils. I also know that it is the easiest for the Brussels and Washington officials to come to diplomatic mission to Serbia. They just need to repeat: “Mladic, Mladic” and “There will be no partition of Kosovo, no return to the pre-1999 state of affairs” and their task is completed.
All this is clear to me. Still, however, can the policy of the West towards Serbia be explained purely in terms of interests? Isn’t there maybe also a grain of intolerance, an irrational grain of aversion that at times comes to the fore, like in the statement of Ahtisaari? Indeed, it seems that there is something more to it. As if Ahtisaari’s statement were not an incident provoked by one diplomat only, but an outbreak of sincerity of an entire Western diplomatic service?
Recently I reread Hobbes, that teacher of the modern West. He says that we don’t hate anyone as much as we hate the one to whom we did a great evil. This is because, the philosopher further explains, the presence of that person reminds us of the dishonour and ignominy of our deeds. Furthermore, because we know that that person, provided that he/she is rational enough, can hardly still be fond of us. Besides, it is very probable that he/she will try to avenge in the future.
Maybe the key to our riddle lies in this remark? For, when we wander – why doesn’t the west treat us Serbs, as they treat Croatians, Albanians or Bulgarians – maybe we ought to have in mind that the West did not bomb the Croats, Albanians or Bulgarians? That it did not kill their two-year-old Marko Simic, eleven-month-old Bojana Tosovic, three-year-old Milica Rakic, six-year-old Branimir Stanijanovic, five-year-old Dejana Pavlovic. And other 83 children. That it did not throw on them at least ten tons of enriched uranium, that creates radiation as 437 atomic bombs thrown at Hiroshima (because of which in 2004 Serbia there are 40% more registered cases of cancer than in 1999).
When, hence, the West looks at Croatians, Albanians or Bulgarians, they probably see nations that they supported, to whom they did a significant good deed and from whom they can expect gratitude. When, however, they look at the Serbs what do they see? Probably only a nation whom they had bombarded and to whom they left radiation?
But, my lord, trust us: Serbs really forgot all that! Is there anyone who really remembers all that, who still thinks about that? We really forgot and forgave everything. We really honestly love the West. We really want to be like you!
But, maybe they did not forget it? Maybe they think that we ought not to, provided that we are rational, love them so much? What a stupid misunderstanding! Yet, there is a solution for that also. The West needs to do a greater good to Serbia. A good that would make it rational for them not to fear us any more, because of which they would no longer have to be ashamed of us. A solution to the Kosovo question not only to the detriment of Serbia, or a genuine opening of the European perspective are two possible deeds that first come to my mind.
Do it! It really isn’t difficult! Automatically will Serbia seem better to you. Because – you will be better too!
[published in “Politika”: 29.08.2006. translated by Srdjan Cvijic]