'It is a lie that Serbia is small'
by Petar Lukovic
According to a public-opinion poll conducted on 1 December 2000, the latest Yugoslav president Dr Vojislav Kostunica enjoys the support of 81.77% of Serbian citizens. This fact may explain why 5,000 copies of his newly published book Between Power and Right: Writings on Kosovo were sold within weeks. The volume is made up of texts or comments written largely in 1998-9 and dealing with the matter of Kosovo, but it is not clear whether they had previously been published or not: the author modestly informs the reader only that the texts are ‘arranged according to the time of their appearance and represent a chronicle of a kind’ and that ‘they have been only minimally altered, in order to highlight the more important aspects and achieve a more or less rounded whole’.
The publishing house is an interesting one: ‘University-Educated Clergy, the Hilander Fund - Foundation of Nikolaj Velimirovic and Justin Popovic’. No less interesting is the fact that this publisher is simultaneously located in three places: Belgrade, Valjevo and ‘Srbinje’ (i.e. the Bosnian town of Foca). The consultants for the publication are equally interesting: Metropolitan Amfilohije Radovic (who is the uncle of Kostunica’s wife Zorica Radovic) and Bishop Atanasije Jeftic. It is interesting too that the edition in which this book appears is called Priest, and subtitled Christian Thought. And it is interesting that the editorial board is divided between an ‘editorial board in the homeland’ and an ‘editorial board abroad’. The former includes Amfilohije and Atanasije, of course, but also Academician and poet Matija Beckovic, apart naturally from the book’s author: Vojislav Kostunica in person.
A Medley of Politics and Orthodoxy
Having committed all this to memory, the reader is able to grasp that we are dealing here with a sacral plot involving the Church, the Academy, the Democratic Party of Serbia (of which Kostunica is president), Christian Thought and the Holy Serb Land. So it is only logical that we should allow the author to inform us in his own words (in the Foreword) what the book is about. ‘Ladies and gentlemen’, the President of FRY writes here, ‘these collected essays represent a reaction to events which at times may appear to us as a troubled dream, but which in reality represent not only our sombre present, but also our equally dark future. They deal in part and only seemingly with yet another Serb tragedy at the turn of the century. These essays are about the omnipotence of Power and the frailty of Right in contemporary Serbia and in the contemporary world. They are about a world that has used us in order to reveal its dark side - or its true face. These texts are as much about the new forms of Western imperial behaviour and democratic totalitarianism as about one of its incidental experiments and victims in the Balkans.’
This linguistic discourse : ‘troubled dream’, ‘sombre present’, ‘Serb tragedy’, ‘dark side’, ‘imperial behaviour’, ‘democratic totalitarianism’ form, in a natural manner, a stylistic context that over the following 330 pages becomes transformed though tired, empty and pathetic phrases into a kind of DOS party statement. As a writer-chronicler, Dr Kostunica seems to have been inoculated against every kind of interesting thought. His sentences are boring, full of generalities and propagandistic phrases, such as: ‘The current American administration, and above all the American president, are faced with the responsibility for their victims, especially their civilian victims, as well as for the enormous material damage caused by the bombs dropped on FRY. Nothing was spared: neither international airports, nor city centres, nor even cultural monuments far older than the United States.’ Kostunica’s writings are, indeed, an amalgam of Milosevic’s Politika and patriotic essays from Pravoslavlje [Orthodoxy]. This is a vocabulary designed to gratify the mythological-Nazi-nationalist passion embedded in the belief that we are dealing with a Conspiracy Against The Heavenly Serb People, a kind of planetary anti-catharsis: ‘The military intervention is an integral part of the incessant attack on the Serb people, following Yugoslavia’s break-up.’
At a literary level, if one can speak in such terms, Between Power and Right is a typical victim of Political Fixation, the language of which serves only to justify the Great Serb Idea By recourse to moral-legalistic phrases such as: ‘International and state orders based on power can last, but what ceaselessly and stubbornly erodes and destroys them - however great their power - are the lies and deceptions upon which they rest; this is true irrespective of whether we are dealing with Stalin’s, Hitler’s or Clinton’s world order, however different these may be.’ Or by reliance on clichés of the Milosevic type: conspiracy, new world order, NATO aggression, NATO’s unscrupulous lies, NATO’s lack of principles, NATO’s adventure. This is the rhetoric of Serbian Radio and Television, or of Politika - and it has sufficient populist appeal to have persuaded Dr Kostunica to adopt it as his patriotic cover.
Dead Man Walking
Each of his essays, tidily arranged in several chapters (Beginnings, Rebellion, Negotiations, War and Occupation) suffers from party-style metastasis - they read like expanded press conference announcements adapted to the format of Belgrade TV’s news programme. Colourless in form if transparent in content, they abound with phrases about Bad American Boys who do not understand that the Serbs are a wonderful, tolerant, peaceable, spectacularly friendly, pacific and anti-militarist people, who have always hated going to war except in folk songs (‘Those who say that Serbia is small lie; it is not small, since it has fought three wars; if lucky, it will fight many more.’)
I am obviously not idiotic enough to have believed that by reading Kostunica’s book I would experience a poetic illumination à la Sylvia Plath. What I did (naively) expect, nevertheless, was that these commentaries would be written with passion, with a visible conviction reflecting at least some (even extreme) national emotion. What I discovered instead - apart from an unfortunate desire to fall asleep after the Foreword - was that Kostunica, as person, president, leader and I don’t know what else, is absolutely the same as Kostunica the writer: a ‘Dead Man Walking’, as the film title goes - someone more dead than alive. I could see a pale, bloodless face, a shy smile, and an admission that VK never tells jokes - because he simply does not understand them.
I must say that I did entertain at least a nominal hope that my official President, writing for an edition entitled Christian Thought, would prove able to shock me, annoy me, unbalance me, excite me with repellent ideas, attack me with arguments designed to install in my head what I have always lacked - a firm national plinth from which, clutching its phallic handle, I would be able to eye every lovely Croatian girl, proud in the knowledge of carrying this presidential pamphlet in my pocket like a party card. Instead, while reading Dr Voja’s book I was overcome by an irresistible desire to sleep, snore, lose consciousness. Every single word arranged in this order in its sentence I have already come across somewhere else, so nothing cropped up to surprise me or my tired eyelids, which insisted I should give up and surrender to dreams about the Adriatic or some other such warm Serb sea.
When, enthralled by the form and style, I admitted to myself that Dr Vojislav is the authentic successor to such well-known writers as Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic, I felt I had to turn to (what else?) his political views regarding the Holy Serb Land: Kosovo. Here again I learned nothing new. For Kostunica, Kosovo is an integral, historico-eternal part of Serbia, and there can be no compromise on this. The most that the Albanians (whom Vojislav, to his credit, does not call Siptari) can have is autonomy, precisely that which was never implemented - either in Croatia or in Bosnia - nor will be, as we can see, in Serbia either.
Like every legalist who is a declared nationalist, Dr Vojislav knows nothing about any crimes committed by the Serbian army and police in Kosovo. He writes, for example (p.211): ‘The Americans like to talk of massacres of Albanians. They have invented the story of the massacre at Racak. Pathologists - not only our own but also foreign ones - clearly established that William Walker and others had lied, at least in this regard. Today, however, before the eyes of the whole world Washington and the European NATO states are massacring a whole nation.’ His national perspective prevents Kostunica from admitting what everyone else has known for a long time: that Milosevic’s regime was repressing the Albanians not just in a formal sense; and that his policy of mass crimes, killings and ethnic cleansing had brought about a situation in which the bloody circle (from Slovenia by way of Croatia and Bosnia) had to be closed by way of a military intervention. Milosevic sought and got intervention. The issue of the moral and every other aspect of Western military engagement is quite another matter. Pretending that Milosevic does not exist, and that he did not seek conflict with the whole world (or at least its most powerful part), Kostunica strikes an artless pose: ‘After the war Yugoslavia will have to live with the world which is at present bombing it; but NATO crimes must never be forgotten, nor the fact that the true aim of the aggression was the wish of the United States, dictated by its well-known strategic interests, to occupy Kosovo and with it Serbia as well. All that was destroyed, not just in Serbia but also in the international legal system, however great this may be, pales in comparison with the damage inflicted upon the achievements and values of European civilization, which has turned the builders of the new world order in Washington, London, Bonn, Brussels, Paris and other NATO capitals into moral and political dwarfs.’
I felt almost tempted to argue with my President that, in the first place, there was no war but only bombing; secondly, no one wished to occupy Serbia (as if they had not got enough problems!); thirdly, in relation to eventual NATO crimes, one should ask Comrade Milosevic - whom (what a coincidence!) Kostunica himself has promised not to deliver to the Hague tribunal.
An Intimate Serb Self-Gratification
I need not weary you further with more of Kostunica’s sentences, since you must already instinctively know them - they run straight to Kosovo, in a direct line to Prishtina, which he stands no chance of visiting. The book Between Power and Right is yet one more example of Serb self-deception: to believe that Kosovo will ever be part of Serbia is to believe that Milan Martic will return to Knin as mayor or police chief, or to hope that Dubrovnik - just like Rijeka - is already Serb enough to become a candidate for the future community of Pan-Adriatic Dalmatian Cities under Serb control.
To cut a long story short: this is a book for intimate Serb self-gratification. You close your eyes and see monasteries with their beautiful nuns and fantasize that Kosovo is Serb. You forget that there is no chance for the next several hundred years of a single Albanian wishing Belgrade to be his or her capital city. Since, however, Dr Vojislav Kostunica is the Yugoslav President, the opportunity for him to appear on the sleeve of his book in Zarez was not to be scoffed at. You should not hold against me the fact that I fell asleep at two in the morning, with Kostunica open at about page 20 lying on my breast. This is a New Serbia which marches in step with the Old Serbia: to Kosovo and back again.
This review has been translated from the Zagreb cultural weekly Zarez, 7 December 2000