In 1992 and 1993, during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the incumbent President of Serbia acted as a war propagandist in Pale. In July 1995, in the aftermath of the fall of Srebrenica, as an MP in the Serbian parliament, he gave the infamous statement: “For every Serb killed, we will kill a hundred Muslims!” In May 2007, the incumbent President of Serbia joined right-wing groups like Obraz, in their action “The Ratko Mladic Boulevard”. In July 2008, he participated in the organization and implementation of the rally protesting the arrest of Radovan Karadzic and his extradition to the Hague Tribunal.
This is how the President speaks today about his visit to Srebrenica, and the attack that took place there:
“I stopped at some point, and this is the part you cannot see on the recording, and then a man threw a plastic bottle at me, and after that he threw a stone. And I stopped, he was three meters from me. I asked him: why are you throwing things at me, what did I do wrong to you? I continued by asking him – man, what is the problem? And then they resumed from all sides, and the boys moved me away, but, if you noticed, I did not bow my head even for a second… I did not want to hide… I did not want to, because I will not bow my head where someone else wants me to, but where I want to, and where I believe I should. And we showed piety – I believe that the relation between Serbs and Bosniaks must be carefully managed and treated, because we have to live together with the Bosniaks… I am a Serb who loves Republika Srpska, indeed, but I also respect Bosnia and Herzegovina, because I believe this to be important for our future”.
Honestly, I doubt that this even took place, or that it transpired in the manner the President claimed it did. The President, as we all know, is prone to confabulation, in particular in cases where he appears as brave, diligent, ascetically selfless and devoted, or standing tall, dignified, defiant. And yet, I like to imagine this encounter, between the President and his anonymous attacker, and I try to supplement it with my own confabulation. In my story, the attacker has read Jean Amery, and his most important work, At the Mind’s Limits, and has chosen to answer the President’s question. Instead of remaining silent, he answers in the following manner:
„I know that the time-sense of the person trapped in resentment is twisted around, disordered, if you wish, for it desires two impossible things: regression into the past and nullification of what happened… For this reason the man of resentment cannot join in the unisonous peace chorus all around him, which cheerfully proposes: not backward let us look but forward, to a better, common future! To the very same degree that for me a fresh, calm look toward the future is too difficult, my persecutors of yesterday manage to find it too easy… I do not want to become the accomplice of my torturers; rather, I demand that the latter negate themselves and in the negation coordinate with me… What happened, happened. This sentence is just as true as it is hostile to morals and intellect. The moral power to resist contains the protest, the revolt against reality, which is rational only as long as it is moral. The moral person demands annulment of time – in the particular case under question, by nailing the criminal to his deed. Thereby, and through a moral turning-back of the clock, the latter can join his victim as a fellow human being.“
The President has everything on his side – the force of the law, international support, and regional projects aiming towards a bright common future. It would be enough, of course, for him to invoke only the first item on the list – whatever else he may be, he is the President of a neighboring country in a diplomatic visit and in this situation, no one has the right to attack him. The President could have left it at that. He could have, if that is what he really wanted, painted himself as the victim – in a way, that is what he was in this case. He could have also bragged about his courage and lack of interest for his own safety – the bottom line is, no one is able to verify this anymore. But all of this is not enough for the President – he must add the question: “Why are you hitting at me, what did I do wrong to you? Man, what is the problem?”
The frightening moral numbness revealed by this statement is the best warning to all who expect the incumbent President of Serbia to become a “factor of reconciliation and stability in the region”. And boasting about the money the President “gifted” to Srebrenica cannot help in this case. On the contrary.1 The President has shown no sign of self-renunciation, which is the only thing that can bring back harmony between the perpetrator and the victim. Instead of this, he is using this opportunity for self-validation, for asserting his own self-will – “I will bow where I believe I should” – according to the President, this is what he considers to be piety.
Translated by Bojana Obradovic Kuzminovic
- Jean Amery writes about a conversation he had in 1958 with a South German businessman over breakfast in a hotel. “Not without first politely inquiring whether I was an Israelite, the man tried to convince me that there was no longer any race hatred in his country. The German people bear no grudge against the Jewish people, he said. As proof he cited his government’s magnanimous policy of reparations, which was, incidentally, well appreciated by the young state of Israel. In the presence of this man, whose mind was so at ease, I felt miserable: Shylock, demanding his pound of flesh” (At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities; translated by Sidney Rosenfeld and Stella P. Rosenfeld).