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Balkan tower

It is possible that one day visitors to Belgrade, especially those approaching the Serbian capital from the north, will be able to gaze with admiration at a magnificent building called the Balkan Tower, because it would be the tallest building on our peninsula. The proposal that such a colossal building, or rather tower, should be erected has been made by the developer and writer Igor Ivanović in his book Culture and Identity – a view from the Right, brought out recently by the publishing house of the journal New Serbian Political Thought. Ivanović proposes that the Balkan Tower be erected in New Belgrade, somewhere between Hotel Hyatt and the river Sava, and also offers an idea of the tower’s visual symbolism. ‘It would be ideal’, he says, ‘that the Balkan Tower sit symbolically upon a pedestal evoking opanke [Serbian peasant sandals], and carry on top a symbolic šajkača [Serbian soldier’s cap].’

What message would the visitor receive on sighting this grandiose building clad in peasant sandals and a military cap? ‘We would show with this’, explains Ivanović, ‘that we know how to value our best traditional symbols, and that we are eternally grateful to the generations that died wearing them for the freedom of contemporary Serbia.’ This is nothing new. We know that [a whole range of] peasant folk motifs are used by all patriotic inhabitants of Serbian towns to show that they remain faithful to village and folk life and have no intention of becoming urban in an unfeeling manner. We want to live in towns, but not without peasant sandals , they tell us.

But a homage to the village and to ancestors need not be the main message of Ivanović’s Balkan Tower, even though that is its visual symbolism. He gives far more importance to another suggestive symbolic message with which this tower in peasant sandals would welcome visitors to Belgrade. The message is that our capital city is the biggest and most powerful cultural centre in the Balkans. The tower, says Ivanović, would be ‘the new future symbol which the capital city ought to erect in order to display its cultural potency in the Balkans’.

Theconstruction of the Balkan Tower is in fact only one part of a far more ambitious project which the author calls the New Serbian Cultural Way. We are dealing here, he explains, ‘with the establishment of a new national and state strategy in culture’. At the basis of this strategy lies the idea that it is necessary for Serbia today, at least for the time being, to give up fighting wars over influence and territory, because doing so led it not long ago to suffer disappointment and defeat. Instead of fighting on the battlefield, our state should conduct a merciless war on the field of culture, in other words – as Ivanović puts it – ‘a kind of total Kulturkampf’.

This would not mean demobilisation, far from it. Advancing culture to the first line of the Serbian battle front is being proposed here as a regrouping of national forces and their preparation for a new offensive, guided this time by a new and more adroit strategy. For if it is true that Serbia in the recent wars expended gunpowder and ammunition yet in general grew weaker militarily, this does not mean that it should cease to struggle. Why should it, when its cultural fighting potential remains untouched? When Serbian culture continues to harbour immensely powerful – and thus far insufficiently used – instruments for conducting successful, victorious battles? Our culture is in fact an enormous store of materiel, for which Ivanović has invented a suitable name: ‘spiritual ammunition’. This is why Serbia will no longer send the army to seize a territory – that will in future be the task of the Serbian spirit. ‘Above this territory, seized without a grain of gunpowder’, explains Ivanović, ‘a spirit will hover like an invisible “conqueror”, entering unnoticed into every crevice of everyday life and creating the individual’s life style’.

When articulating the strategy of this Kulturkampf, Serbia has to bear in mind the experience of the great powers. In other words, says Ivanović, ‘to follow the great world powers along their path to preserve their own culture, and their subsequent cultural invasions through which they surreptitiously extended their spheres of interest’. In planning its own cultural invasion – Ivanović continues with his advice to the Serbian state – it must be realistic and resist rash and premature attempts culturally to subdue the whole world, but must instead concentrate on seizing only one part of it, the Balkans. ‘Serbia must’, Ivanović recommends, ‘by imitating the behaviour of the big states in the global competition achieve a decisive influence on the neighbouring cultures in its own small world, on the Balkan cultural planet’: in other words, ‘become the central cultural empire in the region’.

This should pose few problems. Here is why. First, because of all the countries in our region – the author of Culture and identity reminds us – Serbia alone has developed an authentic culture that is rooted in the Balkan soil, the culture of an original national genius. All that is necessary now is for our state to understand the strategic worth of this culture, to realise that this is what is now used to conquer the world.Serbia – says Ivanović – ‘must bravely raise the Balkan flag of culture on which would be written: “Welcome to the land of barbarian genius”, because the basic values of the region that provoke interest are reflected only in authenticity and originality’. The offensive of Serbia’s barbarian genius culture is aided – Ivanović continues his analysis – by the fact that our neighbours, behaving like parvenus, tend to distance themselves from the Balkans, and reduce their culture to – as he puts it – ‘grotesque attempts at simulating the culture of big and barely related nations’. According to his prognosis, however, our neighbours will not be satisfied for long with cultural surrogates, so will offer no serious resistance to Serbian cultural expansion. This expansion will help them to rediscover themselves: in other words, to receive the Host of the Balkan barbarian genius identity in the Serbian Communion.

The Serbian Cultural Empire cannot emerge suddenly and all at once, of course. Kulturkampf, yes – but a cultural Blitzkrieg should not be considered. The planned invasion must take place in several stages. One must first conquer Republika Srpska and the neighbouring states in which Serbs live, with ‘the accent’ – Ivanović stresses – ‘on Montenegro’. The expansion would then spread to other nations, initially to those – says Ivanović – ‘that are close to us, by blood, religion or civilisation’. But this would not be the final limit of the area which the Serbian Cultural Empire would seize. As the author of the project specifies, ‘it would include all other nations in the region with whom, willingly or not, we share the same fate and many similarities’. In other words, the Serbian Cultural Empire would be larger than the most audaciously conceived territory of Great Serbia. Well, then, is this not a worthwhile project?

Perhaps you find it difficult, after all, to accept Ivanović’s ideas about the Serbian imperial Kulturkampf? You are maybe reserved towards them also because the man who has thought them up is a builder by trade, thus lacking formal qualifications for tackling the subjects presented here? Some will say: a working builder, without much education – no wonder he builds towers clad in peasant sandals. Ivanović’s publisher, it is clear, has foreseen the possibility of such reactions, however. They have engaged the political scientist Miša Đurković, i.e. an expert person, to write an introduction that will help the reader better to understand and accept this (as the writer of the introduction himself says) ‘highly unusual text’. He begins precisely with the intriguing fact that the author is not an academic citizen by profession, but a man engaged in the building trade. But Đorđević does not mention this fact in order to demand of us not to judge too severely Ivanović’s amateurish yet original reasoning. He is seeking to convince us that this book on Serbian culture and identity is exceptionally valuable, not despite the author’s profession, which does not formally qualify him to tackle the subject, but precisely because of it. He invites us to understand that in thinking about culture and identity, and indeed about all other things, labouring on a building site places a man in a privileged position vis-à -vis those who may be academically qualified thinkers but have no building experience. ‘The author of this book’, writes Đurković, ‘is by vocation engaged in the building trade, i.e. a man who erects buildings and houses in which people can live and raise their descendants. Like all constructions, his idea and perception of the world as presented in the book are also deeply embedded in the soil, in experience and tradition. His idea does not derive from abstraction and logical forms, but from the solidity of everyday life marked by work, the creation of new values; from the nausea of a man anxious about the fate of his country, that which our grandfathers and fathers left to our care.’

This expert review, this certificate of competence, is bound to contribute to an easier understanding and greater appreciation of Ivanović’s idea about the Serbian Kulturkampf. For example, those who have rushed to laugh at his proposal to have a Balkan Tower in peasant sandals erected in Belgrade will pause a little, and maybe also feel ashamed, when they see in the introduction that a renowned sociologist – which Miša Đorđević undoubtedly is – thinks that this is, as he says, a ‘splendid idea’.

But reluctance to admit the value of this and other of Ivanović’s ideas is bound to persist. And it will be considerable. For many people in Serbia today are not prepared to accept great ideas arising spontaneously from contact with the soil, for example from a developer’s contact with the building site. Đurković knows this, and also knows why. It is because in Serbia cultural matters are viewed exclusively from the left. ‘The reign of the radical left and the Titoist cultural model’, he laments, ‘has unfortunately reached gigantic dimensions in the post-Milošević era.’ But the truth, and especially the truth about culture, tradition, the soil, grandfathers and fathers – we must surely finally grasp it! – can be seen only if we take the right-wing view. This makes Ivanovic’s pioneering book all the more important, showing how much can be achieved in culture if one views it from this side. Life itself has pushed its author to the right and upwards, i.e. to the summit of authentic thinking devoid of sterile abstractions. Even professional thinkers can hope to end there, i.e. to the right and high above. But only upon one condition: that they accept that their role is to show us the poverty of abstract and logical thought, and to take us further into the mental space of wisdom unmediated by abstractions, such, for example, as the wisdom born in a builder’s head. Searching for natural decency and wisdom, old thinkers came up with the Noble Savage, the Noble Peasant, and finally the Noble Destitute or Proletarian. Contemporary right-wing thinkers gathered around the journal New Serbian Political Thought are making a major contribution to the history of this search. Their discovery, their hero, is called the Noble Developer.

Translation from Bosnian Institute

Pescanik.net, 17.04.2008.

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Ivan Čolović, rođen 1938. u Beogradu, na Filološkom fakultetu diplomirao opštu književnost (1961), magistrirao (1972) romanistiku, na Filozofskom fakultetu doktorirao etnologiju (1983). Radio kao urednik u nekoliko izdavačkih preduzeća, u penziju otišao 2000. kao naučni savetnik Etnografskog instituta SANU. Predavač i gostujući profesor na univerzitetima u Francuskoj, Španiji, Nemačkoj, Italiji, Engleskoj, Sloveniji, Švajcarskoj i Poljskoj. Preveo desetak knjiga sa francuskog, najviše dela Rolana Barta i Žorža Bataja. Objavio 17 knjiga studija i eseja. Dobitnik je sledećih nagrada i priznanja: Herderova nagrada (2000), Orden viteza Legije časti (2001), nagrada Konstantin Obradović (2006), povelja Prijatelj lista Danas (2009), zvanje počasnog doktora Varšavskog univerziteta (2010), nagrada Vitez poziva (2010) i medalja Konstantin Jireček (2012). Biblioteku XX vek osnovao je 1971, a od 1988. je i njen izdavač. (Istorijat Biblioteke prikazan je u knjizi Dubravke Stojanović Noga u vratima. Prilozi za političku biografiju Biblioteke XX vek, 2011) Knjige: Književnost na groblju. Zbirka novih epitafa (1983); Divlja književnost. Etnolingvističko proučavanje paraliterature (1985, 2000); Vreme znakova (1988); Erotizam i književnost. Markiz de Sad i francuska erotska književnost (1990); Bordel ratnika. Folklor, politika i rat ( 1992, 1993, 2000), prevodi na nemački (1994) i francuski (2005, 2009); Pucanje od zdravlja (1994); Jedno s drugim (1995); Politika simbola. Ogledi o političkoj antropologiji (1997, 2000), prevodi na engleski (2002) i poljski (2002); Kad kažem novine / When I say Newspaper (1999, 2004); Campo di calcio, campo di battaglia, originalno izdanje na italijanskom, prev. Silvio Ferrari (1999), prevod na grčki (2007); Dubina. Članci i intervjui 1991-2001 (2001); Etno. Priče o muzici sveta na Internetu (2006), prevod na poljski (2011); Vesti iz kulture (2008); Balkan – teror kulture. Ogledi o političkoj antropologiji, 2 (2008), prevodi na poljski (2007), engleski (2011), nemački (2011) i makedonski (2012); Zid je mrtav, živeli zidovi (ur.) (2009); Za njima smo išli pevajući. Junaci devedesetih (2011); Rastanak sa identitetom. Ogledi o političkoj antropologiji, 3 (2014); Smrt na Kosovu polju: Istorija kosovskog mita (2016); Slike i prilike. Redom kojim su se ukazivale (2018).

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