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New Series no.11/12 August - November 1999
On the role of the Serbian intelligentsia and the position of Montenegro

Interview with Mirjana Miocinovic

Mirjana Miocinovic, drama theorist, translator and essayist, has for the past decade been one of the greatest living symbols of democratic and humanist opposition to policies of war, violence and destruction in the former Yugoslavia. Until 1991 she taught in the faculty of dramatic art at Belgrade University.
She has translated three books and a number of articles on theatre and the theory of tragedy, and has published three collections of essays (Essays on Drama, 1975; The Theatre of Cruelty, 1976; and Theatre and the Guillotine, 1990) as well as two readers (The Birth of Modern Literature, 1976; Modern Drama Theory, 1981).
Her most recent collection of articles, comments and interviews, The Impotence of the Obvious (Krug Editions, Belgrade Circle, 1997), constitutes a chronicle of the last decade's political and cultural controversies in the former Yugoslavia.

Terror of a Society without Points of Reference

Your book The Impotence of the Obvious has been read as an `excessively human' manifestation of a fundamental right, the right to adopt a position. Its title underlines the ambivalent character of the perception and powerlessness of the lone intellectual whose discourse exposes, from a marginal viewpoint, the damage and humiliation caused by a completely perverted system of values, and points to the impossibility of finding an alternative.

Yes, it refers to the total impotence manifested in response to the events of the last ten years. When most people don't see, don't want to see, or worst of all want to see exactly what they do see — which is the most frequent case — pointing out what is so obviously evil becomes useless. But that doesn't mean we don't have to do it. It's not just an obligation, not just a sense of duty. It seems to me, in fact, that all those who from the start opposed both the principles and the consequences — very immediate and easy to predict — of an evil policy were moved by a moral instinct that has nothing to do with either intelligence or education. They were people who quite simply, and instantly, saw that there was something terribly vile, terribly evil, immoral and dangerous in the political programme supported by the majority.

That is why I am tempted to assert, accepting full responsibility for all that such an assertion implies, that not just all the open supporters of that policy, but also all those who failed to oppose it with their instincts and their gut feelings from the start, who were not sickened to the point of despair by it, are quite simply immoral persons. You see, human ignorance may be easily manipulated where facts are concerned: for example, much of Serbia may have been deserted during the recent solar eclipse as a result of the panic created by the state broadcasting company RTS, since most people know nothing about natural phenomena of that sort. But that didn't involve morality. When the idea is widely accepted, however, that God has given us more rights than other people, that our lives are more precious than theirs, then we're in the moral sphere and there's no room for excuses about ignorance, lack of information or `brainwashing'. Even if we admit that knowledge is ambivalent, as you put it, there's nothing ambivalent about morality: if something is vile, then it's vile always and everywhere. For just as there are constants in human nature, so there are constants in judging what is good and what is evil. And horror comes to pass when all criteria vanish from the sphere of judgement. That is exactly what has been happening in Serbia for the past ten years.

In a text published in 1995 you had a premonition of the `anthropological catastrophe' threatening the Serbian nation, as a result of the moral decline connected with the wars in former Yugoslavia. Where do you place the starting point of the `ideology of blood and soil' which has eventually led even to selfüdestruction?

Let's start with a little look at the facts concerning these wars on the territory of former Yugoslavia. First there was the brief war in Slovenia, one that may even have appeared justified since it was allegedly waged to preserve the integrity of the state. In reality, though, it too was illegitimate, since it was waged by an evil political regime headed by the present president of Yugoslavia, whose aim was perfectly clear: to impose on everyone an autocratic rule supported by the most numerous nation in the country. That implied not just prolonging the life of a system and an ideology that were dying all over eastern Europe, but the voluntary acquiescence of other Yugoslavs to a Serbian domination for which the triumphal way was now open. Following the defeat of this first concept, an open war was launched aimed at conquering territory, first in Croatia and then in BosniaüHerzegovina, a war for which there was almost complete consensus among the Serbian people: tanks leaving for eastern Slavonia were garlanded with flowers, volunteers queued for recruitment, paramilitary units were formed, and then towns were destroyed and their nonüSerb inhabitants expelled or killed in the most brutal fashion. Three quarters of the territory of Bosnia–Herzegovina was occupied, concentration camps were opened, monuments were razed, Sarajevo was kept under siege for three and a half years, and Srebrenica was taken with the total expulsion of the Muslim population and the liquidation of around 8,000 men. And finally, in the space of just a few weeks, some 800,000 Albanians were expelled from Kosovo with looting, mass killings and the destruction and burning of houses.

That's the record of a policy that had the support of the people — and support that was not forced either, but based on a conviction that both the aims and the means of the policy were legitimate. And when, finally, the world decided to put an end to all that, the Serbian people complained to the skies of the injustice it had suffered. In the end it's hard to tell which is more despicable: the arrogance and cruelty shown when the war was going `well', or these whining, self–pitying appeals for sympathy. Whom have we spared over the last ten years? Who have been the beneficiaries of our compassion? What have we protected apart from our own `national interests', and that by cruelly threatening everyone else's?

I am convinced, and I say it with bitterness and despair, that even today the question: `Are Karadzic and Mladic, or Milosevic and his camarilla of policemen, soldiers and politicians, war criminals?' would be answered in the negative by a majority. We have to shift finally from the sphere of the irrational to the sphere of reason, get detailed information on events, study the documents, be confronted with the images of events in their chronological sequence, in order finally to establish the connection between cause and effect: to see clearly, for example, what preceded the exodus of Serbs from `Krajina', or what preceded the present brutalities against Serbs in Kosovo. But the only question is who might be willing to undertake this. When the opposition one day arrives in power, and perhaps that day is not too far off, won't it continue to mystify the real nature of these events in order to dissimulate its own involvement in them? If so, we shan't be living in a healthy society for a long time to come.

In recent years you have posthumously published several works by your late husband, the writer Danilo Kis (The Bitter Dregs of Experience; The Lute and the Scars; Store). Many people think that the `Kis affair', as a cultural and literary scandal, presaged the dramatic events that were to follow, especially in its blending of communism and nationalist ideology.

That was undoubtedly the first time this secret collusion between communism and nationalism showed itself very openly. Today it is clear to everyone, of course, that the communist nomenklatura, not just in Serbia but in the other former Yugoslav republics, had not only its own nationalist constituency engendered by national envy over careers level, but also its own nationalistic combat units standing ready. For the smooth transformation of communists into nationalists and the sudden, unimpeded sprouting of the most extreme forms of nationalism couldn't possibly have happened so quickly otherwise. The phenomenon was especially visible in Serbia, since Serbian nationalists and communists shared a strong Russophile sentiment and deep hostility to the West. There was and still remains a fatal bond between Orthodoxy and the revolutionary myth, `the Comintern and Dostoievsky', as Kis himself defined this typically Serbian characteristic in 1986, ten years after the `affair'. That affair made me realize something that I at least consider to be a fact: namely, that the Serbian intelligentsia is the worst part of the Serbian people; that it carries within itself all the worst mental traits; that it is poisoned by the prejudices it transmits to others through the institutions it runs (culture, education, media); that it is the intelligentsia which made a principle out of hostility and contempt for the other, behind which there actually lurks a fear of the other. In my opinion it is more guilty than anyone else for causing all the events that led to what it now pathetically calls the `martyrdom' of the Serbian people. For it supplied the political, police and military nomenklatura with its dangerous formulae and played the role of `commissar for ideological questions'. And what is worst, after everything that has happened, it is still the one producing plans for a `rebirth'.

Do you mean that the communism–nationalism combination still exists and is still functioning?

Without the shadow of a doubt. Moreover, the ruling coalition (SPS [Milosevic's Serbian Socialist Party], JUL [United Yugoslav Left, led by Milosevic's wife Mira Markovic] and SRS [Seselj's Radical Party]) is its official incarnation. I don't believe a political hybrid of this sort could exist anywhere else in the world. Its only kin is the sinister ideological mishmash upon which the KLA hopes to build `a state of its own'. But this would worry me far less if the opposition were only capable of coming up with a viable alternative civic programme, which would certainly be supported by a large number of people in such a heterogeneous state. But the opposition isn't up to it. Its own nationalist colouring constantly shows through its fa‡ade. It is only too ready to sign political agreements at the Patriarchy, to have priests open its rallies, to allow the royal anthem to be sung at them or to read out messages from the Prince [Alexander], and to address people as `[Serb] brothers and sisters'. This all demonstrates a lack of political intelligence; a failure to understand how the electorate is made up and where the opponents of Milosevic's regime are really to be found — the real opponents of his coalition — or on what foundations a truly modern society can be built. And I haven't even mentioned the fact that the so–called Movement for the Democratization of Serbia is led by a general [Momcilo Perisic] who has been sentenced to twenty years in prison in a neighbouring country for his `military successes' on its territory, and who is now attempting to cash politically as quickly as possible what is perhaps the first moral act of his military career. None of this is of a nature to allay one's anxiety.

The Responsibility of Montenegro

In one of your articles you wrote in relation to FRY that `if it survives, it will slowly be transformed into a military camp'! Some people think, however, that Montenegro is something quite different from Serbia or the Federal bodies. How do you experience the current political atmosphere in FRY, especially relations between the Federal units?

Allow me to start by reminding you that the Montenegrins left their decision to be `quite different' until rather late, since Montenegro played an important part in the whole `history of dishonour'. The Montenegrins are not just responsible for the Dubrovnik campaign, whose first civilian casualty was Milan Milisic, one of the greatest modern poets in the language that (despite everything) we have in common. Montenegro is also responsible for having agreed as wholeheartedly as Serbia to the war in Bosnia. Montenegro has never paid any attention to all those people in Serbia, or more precisely Belgrade, who have been marginalized, silenced, or denounced as traitors, dangerous cosmopolitans, etc. over the past ten years, and who have in fact striven in every way to oppose the regime's violence and above all its warmongering policy. Trg pesnika [Poets' Square: a pan–Serb cultural event organized every summer in Budva] has for years been nothing but a forum for Serbian and Serbo–Montenegrin `talking heads' feeding the war machine with poetic broadsheets (and from what I hear they're now using the same means to prepare for a `tribal war'). Notorious careerists, for whom the last few years have been a golden age, have been collecting honours in Montenegro and trotting about your country masquerading as opponents of the Serbian regime. And so on. So Montenegro too has serious problems with its recent history. It is undeniable, however, that the coalition currently in power in Montenegro has struck the only serious blow against Milosevic, and has shown how effective a positive political partnership can be. But for the time being, I think, it is necessary to avoid risky measures, which in my view include the idea of a referendum, though not the idea of redefining relations within the federation. I don't say this for selfish reasons, but because I sincerely believe that Montenegro has a lot to offer the Serbian opposition, which is carrying out its mission of getting rid of Milosevic so feebly. Whether in better circumstances (which will certainly come one day) independence will be the best solution for Montenegro is another question. Personally I'm not in favour of small states, because there's always the risk that they may turn into what Miodrag Stanisavljevic — referring to the late Republika Srpska Krajina and the bastard Republika Srpska — called `Carpathian principalities from Hollywood films', colourfully described also by the mafia expression: `a small pool full of crocodiles'.
If it should come to that, though, I can only wish Montenegro `bon voyage and a fair wind'.

The above interview is translated from Monitor (Podgorica), 10 September 1999 and was conducted by Ljubeta Labovic.

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