Thursday, August 31, 2006

The grain of Intolerance: by Slobodan Antonic

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!

Political Analyst

Slobodan Antonic

[published in “Politika”: 29.08.2006. translated by Srdjan Cvijic]


Bg anon said...

Thanks for the translation. I suppose there is something in what Antonic is saying here.

But one thing has to be bourne in mind the Western attitude is adopted primarily, not of disliking Serbia because of its (Wests) own mistakes, but because it (the West) isnt particularly bothered either way. The West doesnt feel the need to make up for past deeds or misdeeds - in many cases those in government at the time of the former Yug crisis arent in office any longer.

However, it might well apply to those such as Artisari - simplifications in ones own mind (even in the mind of the clever) make solutions easier to find. Its likely he does see what happened as being collectively the Serbs fault. Another analyst with ties to Antonic, Vukadinovic said recently that 'it is a little known fact that Artisari is one of the very few European officials who openly supported Operation Storm'.

I'd say that some of the politically active liberal centre (who have some knowledge of what happened) in the US and UK adopt a similar mindset with regard to Yugoslavia. And those with supposedly stronger moral compases (the Greens in Germany for example who supported bombardment of Serbia) are firm on Serb guilt. And perhaps they do feel some anger with the Serbs who 'made' them break with their previously pacifist views.

Still, I think its important not to bow to quasi phsychological theories too much.

Srdjan Cvijic said...

bg anon, thank you very much for the comment I tend to agree with you that the Western focus has significantly shifted from Serbia in the period between 2000 and 2006 and that Serbia is not on the top foreign policy agenda of the major players in the international community but also that the appointment of Athisaari might have been a mistake if that is what you were implying.

Anonymous said...

I read this post with care and I must say that he asks some difficult questions. Leaving aside if Athisaari indeed 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 there.

I am not sure if it is for Athisarri or myself to say the Serbian nation should feel any remorse or collective guilt for what has happened in Kosovo or indeed before in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. Why? Because it is obvious in mind that Serbian nation should carry some guilt like for example Slovene nation should have collective guilt for what has occured following the end of Second World War. More imporantly, the Serbian nation will itself arrive at conclusion whether there is a need to have any collective guilt about what has happened in Kosovo and if anything could be learned from those events.

In my mind is better to work for better future in Serbis than to wonder why doesn’t the west treat us - Serbs, as they treat Croatians, Albanians or Bulgarians?


Srdjan Cvijic said...

Thanks for your comment Jernej. I can see your point and I agree with you: Serbs should definitely face what has happened and what they have done in the last 15 years, which kind of leadership they allowed to take power in their country and so on (but we paid quite a lot already, sanctions, 1999 bombings etc.)…But you cannot neglect the significance of the current political processes in Serbia. Although there is a strong opposition to it, the process of questioning the past it is happening, the special section of the Court in Serbia for war crimes, just to give an example, is working three shifts and it seems that the chapter on Mladic and the reminder of indicted for war crimes is closing down…I agree that Serbs should not be talking about guilt of Croats, Bosnians etc. (which is also undoubtedly great) but this is in the best of worlds, in this world in which we live, people do that they tend to blame the others also it is easier, just visit this web page (there you will see the entire video with English translation of the Serbian Radical Party presentation of the film “Truth” of crimes committed against the Serbs on the territory of ex-Yugoslavia) Entire manifestation was a reaction to the broadcasting of the home video of Serbian killings of Muslim boys at Srebrenica (see You will understand how much remorse how much victimisation still persist in our society and how irresponsible politicians (although this time using much more moderate wordings such as we recognize our crimes but we ask for demasking of crimes against the Serbs and, of course, “we suffered the most”). Serbian public opinion was split in two, those who cared more about what 'their own' military forces did and those who looked at the others, but believe me everyone, even the Radicals in Sava Center on the video, saw the video of killings of Muslim boys in Srebrenica and this certainly has an effect on political choices in Serbia.

Bg anon said...

Well it is too late to try to replace Artisari. In fact who knows who would replace him. The 'internationals' have decided upon a policy regarding Kosovo already - conditional independence, they just need somebody to carry that out.

Concepts like carrying a burden for the sins of others on the basis of ethnic group are alien to me. In fact not only alien but if I may say so a little primative. We are all individuals, citizens. We are not members of tribes, ancient ethnic groups and so on.

Such historical gripes which implicate a country or ethnic group are usually pretty counter - productive in future conflicts.
Did the supposed 'guilt' of the Croatians WW2 mitigate or tone down nationalism in the 1990's?
Quite the opposite - even if there are many other factors in play such as Communist Yugoslavia and a policy of sweeping under the carpet.

Those that have sinned must be called to account for what they've done without mercy. But those who did nothing wrong must not be punished in with those people.

Anonymous said...

Slobo kazuje na kome je pravda
Vesna Rakić Vodinelić

Papir mrči Antoniću Slobo –
Ne mrči ga što je slave željan,
No ga mrči da mu se osveti!
Kad je sitnu namrčio knjigu,
On poziva mladoga čauša,
Te ovako stane besjediti:
„Davor momče, davor dobro moje,
Sad poteci iz petnijeh žila,
Te moj govor i besjedu mudru
Hitno predaj Politici dičnoj
I njezinoj rubrici svadljivoj,
A u kojoj svakoga četvrtka -
Gleda sebe majmun u zrcalo!“

Kad napisa Antoniću Slobo
Knjigu sitnu i kada je posla,
Okrete se poslu domaćemu:
Natapira kose ofarbane,
Umi lice vulkanskog porijekla
I protrlja znojave dlanove,[1]
Te otpoče čedo svjetovati:
„Kad se kreneš noćas zanoćiti,
Ti ne bacaj ruho po stolici,
Već ga složi i uredno smotaj,
Te otvori dolap u duvaru,
Pa u dolap tiho, svetosavski,
Složi ruho k`o pod konac svilen –
Da ne kriva ni l`jevo ni desno –
Da tu vlada red, rad i poredak,
K`o da ga je Obraz položio,
K`o da ga je Firer postrojio!“

Pa se krete stolu pisaćemu
Ne bil` štogođ novo namrčio,
Al` ga stade mučiti dilema:[2]
Da l` studirat` ili gusle svirat`,
Da li spavat il` knjige otvarat –
Il` krenuti skupa sa kolegom
Iz revije za nejač ovdašnju –
Nove Srbske Ulizičke Misli?
Kad dilemu ne usp`je rješiti,
Tad obori svoju rusu glavu,
Stade gorku sudbu proklinjati
Što ga ćera svakoga četvrtka
Da silazi s uma pomračena,[3]
Te da traži stalno nove teme
Kojima će svima dokazivat`
Da fašizam liberalno sniva
U Srbskome toplom kokošinjcu
I da nema nikakve razlike
Međ` Firerom i građanom mirnim!

Al` se tada na svu sreću sjeti
Da Srbijom legalizam vlada
Da se ima o čemu pisati
Da se ima kome prebacivat`-
Sve od gr`ješnog zrnca krvnoga
Pa do borbe za ustavna prava,
Koju vode izdajice Srbstva -
Te zavapi čistom ćirilicom:
“Ој погледе, алај си ми пук`о,
(Зашто си ми пук`о пред очима,
Чиме ћу те јадан зал`јепити?)[4]
Па сад виђех што не виђех прије:
Ко кођ пише писмом латинскијем,
А да није рода мањинскога,
Мора бити погано кољено!
Ко гођ мисли да исправан Србин
Штогођ друго писати умије
Осим благe, светe ћирилицe –
Тај је изрод рода Сербскога,
Те му ваља одмах укинути
Сва уставна и грађанска права,
Па га ваља одмах проћерати
На ђубриште наше Историје!“

Kad je tako zadobio krila,
On se sјeti još pravnijeh tema,
Kojeno je baš zanemariv`o,
Jer o njima ništa znao nije!
Pak dohvati nacrta zakona
Od proklete liberalne stranke
I tad stade papira mrčiti:
„Pripazite malo bolje Srblji!
Šta će nama mrski ispitivač
Za povrede vaših ljudskih prava?
Šta će nama dokazi opaki
Za stradanja vaša izmišljena,
Kad nam Služba odvajkada stoji?
Dogod čvrsto naša Služba brine,
Za budućnost Srbstva se ne bojim,
Dok imamo Službu da vas prati,[5]
Šta će nama zakoni moderni –
Mi imamo Srbstvo i Službinstvo,
Šta će nama bratstvo i jedinstvo!“

[1] U ovom stihu parafraziran je stih Predraga Lucića, Haiku, haiku..., Split 2003, str. 368
[2] U ovom i narednom stihu korišćena je kao ugled, a ne doslovno deseteračka fraza Predraga Lucića, op.cit., str. 89
[3] Up. izvrsni Lucićev stih, op. cit. str. 169:
„Ko nanula kojom sa čardaka
Insan mere kano s uma sići,“
[4] Up. Lucić, op. cit. Str. 170
[5] Takođe parafraza Lucića, op. cit., str. 368