On 2 July 2010 the two creators and presenters of the widely respected radio programme Peščanik (Hourglass), Svetlana Lukić and Svetlana Vuković, told their audience that this was to be their last broadcast with the Belgrade radio station B92.
A few days earlier, on 28 June, Peščanik had celebrated its tenth anniversary with the promotion of four new books: Srđa Popović’s Bitter Tears Thereafter, Dubravka Stojanović’s Oil on Water, Mirko Ðorđević’s Patriarch Paul’s Umbrella, and Svetlana Slapšak’s Hronospore II.
It was on that occasion that the two Svetlanas announced their intention to become an independent 24-hour internet radio programme, promising to create ‘a new and more useful Peščanik’.
Serbia assuredly needs Peščanik. The programme has earned its reputation by subjecting the Serbian regime and its elites to stringent criticism, becoming in the process a place that has brought together the best of the Serbian opposition, a home from home for the voices of reason and expertise which Serbia – battered by decades of misrule by conservative nationalists and adventurers of various inspirations – sorely lacks elsewhere.
Over this past decade, its publications and website have been an indispensable source for all serious students of Serbia’s history, politics and society, with committed, considered and at times impassioned reporting on the events animating the Serbian public sphere. We wish the two Svetlanas and their colleagues every success in the future.
The Bosnian Institute
Why the decision?
Svetlana Lukić offered the following explanation (with reference to the World Cup) of why it had been decided that Peščanik should cease to exist in its present form: ‘We have been watering and mowing the ground, the grass, painting the goalposts, creating a space for people who wished to speak freely in their own name, making them feel they are always welcome on Peščanik. All I can say is that some of them have decided to stop speaking, because they no longer liked the programme, saying it wasn’t constructive. And there were those whose activities, in our view, didn’t tally with what they were saying on Peščanik, and this gap we found objectionable.
Many of our friends present in this hall believe that the programme has become counter-productive, which is a perfectly legitimate position and one which we must take seriously, because we wouldn’t wish to harm those individuals, movements and institutions which we believe wish to create the kind of Serbia that we would like to see. We have also from the start been criticised for not sticking to the profession. But this is a red herring, as the saying goes, because we weren’t living in normal times, and we too used to ask ourselves whether we were a medium or a movement. We think that the old Pešcanik concept has done what it could.
We are not going anywhere. In the autumn we will continue to do what we know how to and can do, initially on our website. Our idea is to create a 24-hour internet radio, to be wholly independent. […] Our ambitions are in fact greater than before, and, as I say, limited to independent radio, we hope it will be an internet radio, and you will be informed on our website about everything we are doing. This is all I wish to say. But I cannot promise you anything, because in Serbia the future case should be thrown out and made illegal. One should replace in the constitution the phrase “Kosovo is Serbia” with “use of the future case in public speech is forbidden”.’
Those associated with Peščanik, whether by regularly appearing on the programme or working as part of its team, offered their own views on the significance of Pešcanik:
Mirko Ðordević released briefly from hospital in order to be present at the occasion, and introduced by Svetlana Lukić as ‘one of the rare people in our country who has unceasingly criticised, albeit with love and faith, the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the war of the 1990s, and also the ugly role which it played in Serbia after 5 October’, praised Pešcanik for the seriousness of its approach: ‘[Patriarch Paul’s Umbrella] contains my reflections aired on Peščanik. For I realised early on that in the wealth of writings about the Church that it was, surprisingly, Pešcanik, a radio programme of lay orientation, which had the most honest approach to the relationship between church and society, or church and state. In the Serbian case these relations were not simply a testimony to the times, but also a close collaboration on the principle of conjoined vessels.’
Dubravka Stojanović alluding to the fact that 28 June is also Vidovdan – the state holiday celebrated by the nationalists as the holiest day in the Serb calendar, because the battle of Kosovo took place on Vidovdan, when they claim the Serb nation opted for a celestial as opposed worldly empire – declared: ‘I propose that we should henceforth celebrate Vidovdan as Pešcanik’s tenth birthday. To paraphrase John Read’s book on the Russian revolution, we will call it Ten Years that Shook the World, and celebrate it as the moment of opting for the virtual empire.’
For Srđa Popović, Peščanik was a place of healing: ‘You have all heard – and we all were saddened here to hear – that the programme is about to close. I know that many people are dismayed by this, that many will miss it, but it is precisely for this reason why I think we should see this programme as a success. It is a sign of success, not of defeat, that it is ceasing to exist. It has played an enormous role over the past ten years as a tool for building the self-confidence of this whole country that appears so incapable of self-reflection, and as the only place where people approached by the Svetlanas tried to gain a better understanding of themselves, create a new identity. […] What I liked about Pešcanik was not so much its overall political stance, which is self-understood, of course, but that this was the only place where experts could talk about their field of expertise. This is a rare phenomenon here, where everyone knows everything. To be sure, people at times got emotional, [but] Pešcanik displayed something that is sorely lacking, the analytical spirit, the effort to discuss analytically this country’s problems. … Pešcanik’s function, I would say, was one that was capable of creating a new generation of bright young people… I wish to say in conclusion that what is needed is unbounded optimism. To spend ten years trying to explain things to this nation is to be amazingly optimistic. This is the optimism that comes from engagement.’
Vesna Pešić praised the programme for its defiance of The First [Establishment] Serbia: ‘There is no other place which in its own specific style has conducted such uncompromising criticism of our state and society. In this it is unique. There are and have been other places, though increasingly few in number, but none quite like Peščanik. Pešcanik criticised unreservedly and uncompromisingly the causes and consequences of the recent wars, Serb nationalism and imperialism. The questioning of the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Fascist phenomena. The concealment of the background to Ðinđić’s murder. The cover-up of the recent past and its actors. The violence against national minorities and the socially disadvantaged. The suppression of human rights and media freedom. The disregard of laws and institutions. The false reforms. The simulation of reforms. The authoritarianism and petrification of the allegedly democratic government, which has joined forces with the tycoons, and has been buying elections without any sense of shame.
It has mercilessly criticised the systemic corruption and the party state, or more precisely the multi-party dictatorship, the widespread anomie, the superficial talk of Europe, and all kinds of imbecility and primitivism. And let me not forget Jeremic and the choice between Europe and Kosovo. And Boris Tadić’s pearls of wisdom too, especially in his manly mode when he daringly tells Europe to decide finally whether it want us, and threatens it to stop dragging its feet or we’ll go elsewhere. We discussed on Pešcanik this and many other themes I cannot recall at this moment. No one appearing on Peščanik ever said anything shameful, came out with some nationalist statement or other, though there has been a bit of ritual swearing. Yet I often hear complaints when it comes to Pešcanik. That there is too much criticism of the government, in other words of the Democratic Party and Boris Tadić. This, in their view, is bad, because he is better than the rest, he would only be replaced by someone worse than him. This has led [many previous] interlocutors to hide themselves. [I can hear them say] “shut up, don’t talk so much against this pro-European government, for otherwise the anti-Europeans will come”. But this pro-European government is a mixture of all sorts of things, with very little Europe in it. And I wonder whether this minimalism has taken hold of The Other Serbia too, whether it has abandoned its ambitions, whether we have lowered the benchmark so much that even [present-day] Serbia can reach it. [However, I] think that the problem doesn’t lie in our uncompromising criticism, in the fact that someone doesn’t wish to join the system because they don’t like what is happening in this country. I think instead that the object [of our criticism] has become a dead sea. The dilemma is how you can move a dead horse. We constantly discuss it and beat it. But you are beating something that is dead and that you cannot resurrect with words. This is what I think is the problem.’
Dejan Ilić spoke of Serbia’s persistent inability to conduct reforms, and in that context of Pešcanik’s importance: ‘I myself don’t think that the critical dimension that is usually stressed is what distinguishes Pešcanik. Why then is Peščanik important to me and what do I think its role is? This may surprise you, but what I most value in Pešcanik is its patriotic dimension. You may not have noticed, but week in and week out, year after year, Pešcanik talks about the country in which we live. And it speaks about that country with concern. We listen to the programme because we too are worried. Concern for one’s country is a patriotic quality. Those who care for the country are patriots.’
Žarko Korać: ‘What I hold against the people who are now Serbia’s political leaders is not so much the corruption that has become institutionalised, nor the fact that the media is under greater control than ever, [but] that they don’t believe that Serbia can do more and better; that they in fact despise their own people and their own country; that they no longer ask it to change for the better, to join finally and properly that community of culturally and economically developed nations which are our natural milieu. One could often hear on Peščanik people who said this, put in a variety of ways and who encouraged you by doing so, by making you aware that Serbia at this moment is a country that has renounced proper reform.
Serbia will do what it must, bring in pro-European laws and even create some institutions. But it continues to live in the shadow of the rejection of all substantive change. And, what is particularly reprehensible, in the shadow of a government that doesn’t wish to investigate Ðinđić’s politically-motivated assassination. [What] scares me in particular is the existence of a Serbia that is criminal in relation to Zoran Ðinđić – and in relation to other countries, in the wars – that same Serbia, with the same actors, the same killers. The killers who murdered Zoran Ðinđić and killed others too …
No country can develop on the assumption that all can participate in the change, since that is unrealistic: people have different aims and view society differently. But we can be aware that this is so. Peščanik was a programme of people who knew that we cannot turn [such a] Serbia into a modern society. [Peščanik] was a programme that freed us, helping us to be confident in our own judgement about what we see. [That] what we see as wrong with our society is indeed wrong. Peščanik had a loyal public because it helped you to trust yourself. To trust your own dreadful feeling that Serbia is going wrong, is not developing as it should, and that this is because it cannot join the modern world, the twenty-first century, with the hypertrophied nationalist ideology that prevails today.’
These reflections are translated from Peščanik’s final broadcast on B92, 2 July 2010
Bosnian Institute, 02.08.2010.