Kosovo is Kosovo
Author: Saša Ilic
Uploaded: Wednesday, 12 March, 2008
A sardonic 'deconstruction' of the recent 'Kosovo is Serbia' rally in Belgrade after which embassies were trashed and shops looted, translated from the independent Serbian daily newspaper 'Danas'.
Political rhetoric in the former Yugoslavia and its various derivatives - from FRY to SCG to present-day Serbia - has never lost its function of mobilising public opinion. At the recent ‘Kosovo is Serbia’ rally, several speeches were built into the structure of the meeting with the intention of providing an artful scenography for the spoken word. Slotted in between the anthem God of Justice, Matija Bećković’s poem The Field of Kosovo (from the crisis year of 1987) in Nenad Jezdić’s surrealist interpretation, and the song Hey Kosovo, Kosovo sung by Ivana Žigon, came Prime Minister Koštunica’s address. This address was not merely placed in the context of the key insignia of ‘modern’ Serbia (the anthem, Bećković’s poetry, Žigon’s patriotism), it was also infused with a paroxysm of pathos by the recent proclamation of Kosovo’s independence. One should bear in mind that all this was happening after presidential elections in which Koštunica’s candidate had been soundly thrashed.
Speech and structure
The prime minister’s entire speech can be roughly divided into several functional (classical) units: 1) invocation or calling upon the muse (‘O Serbia!’); 2) extended invocation or replies to rhetorical questions (‘Kosovo! It is Serbia’s first name’, etc.); 3) punishment for disloyalty or betrayal (‘No punishment is sufficiently great and terrible’, etc.); 4) prolongation or heightening of pathos (Peć patriarchy, Visoki Dečani, Gračanica, etc); 5) complication or introduction of a disruptive factor (‘International tyrants are asking us to accept humiliation’, etc.); excursus on justice and injustice (‘Which divine, human or European law have we violated?’, etc.); 7) deus ex machina or on allies (‘President Putin’s principled support’, etc.); and finally 8) the Kosovo pledge (‘The nation demands of us that we pledge our word today! As long as we live: Kosovo is Serbia!’).
It can easily be shown that seven of these eight functional units do not belong to political discourse, at least not to the type common to the modern world. Only the seventh and shortest unit is pretty clear, which is that Koštunica has recognised certain shared interests in Putin’s foreign policy. However, when this phrase too is placed in the aforementioned context, you obtain a figure that classical rhetoric calls hyperbole. Thus in this unjust world there is a man who can help our cause. This man and his powers grow in the mind of the listeners to unbelievable proportions. Achieving pathos in this way is, in Quintilian’s view, an important rhetorical device: achieving such an emotional effect that a person’s very soul will wish our cause to go well. On this occasion, however, the speech was not addressed to Vladimir Putin, and the speaker did not speak in his own name (‘I’) but in the name of Serbian citizens (‘we’), those there present who, through his rhetoric, became nothing but a trope, in a metonymy whereby the part represents the whole. The speaker, in other words, withdrew from his ‘I’ to the shelter of the abstract ‘we’, lent it his voice, articulation and thoughts, expressed what in his view the nation should have said at that moment.
The prime minister’s speech was not a rootless plant. It was crafted ‘in the popular style’, as used to be said, with the proviso that here ‘popular’ refers to a specific idiom derived from a so-called poetic construct, all under the veil of ‘singing with and for the people’. Let us, therefore, examine the main source of the prime minister’s speech. The interpretive key is to be found within the spectacle of the rally itself. It is Bećković’s poem The Field of Kosovo. This was a happy opportunity to hear the bard speak together with the prime minister. In Serbia today, borrowing from Bećković’s opus is of the greatest importance. Following Mihajlo Pantić, who said of Miro Vuksanović that he was ‘Bećković in prose’, we might say of the prime minister that he is ‘Bećković in politics’. Here are some analogies showing how Bećković’s text - just like chuzhoe slovo [‘the other’s word’ for Bakhtin] - constitutes the prime minister’s political discourse.
Where am I to take Visoki Dečani?
Where am I to erect the patriarchy of Peć?
No one will hear us say that the patriarchy of Peć is not ours, that Visoki Dečani and Gračanica are not ours!
They are stealing my memory,
shortening my past,
turning churches into mosques,
pillaging the alphabet...
Who are we, Serbs?
What is our true name?
Is there a nation in today’s world of which the tyrants demand what they do of the Serbs, promising us that we will allegedly be better off without memory and roots!
Anybody who had been immersed for a sufficient length of time in Serbian political rhetoric or patriotic poetry would easily have grasped that this was no joke, and that we had to mobilise at once (which is what in fact happened on the fringes of the rally). Someone else, however, who came from outside the borders of this discourse, would have come up against a wall of incomprehension. They would doubtless have asked why this man was posing so many rhetorical questions, which at a certain point turned into nonsense: Who are we? What is our name?, and so on. The prime minister’s emphatic speech unfolded largely on the basis of two rhetorical principles: on the one hand he posed meaningless questions with blindingly obvious replies, whil