There’s just something about festive receptions “with the highest state honors”. Since there are no lowest honors, in this case the superlative only underlines the spectacle with lined-up troops, reports, forced hospitality and military music. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a man who, in July last year, survived a military coup, one of the favorite forms of power change in Turkey, came to visit us.
After this miserable attempt at a coup, Erdoğan became a Sultan of secular Turkey, a cruel persecutor of political opponents, writers, journalists, people who don’t take him and his actions favorably. Even for the idle Serbian grandparents who lost their sight watching Turkish soap operas, Erdoğan is the new Suleiman the Magnificent, the owner of the past in which we built our mentality and got ourselves our own little Sultan to act as the master of the universe.
It’s not a bad idea to be friends with the powerful, it’s better to give them a little obeisance than to be their prey. There is some excitement in choosing friends from different sides and reasons that don’t need to be explained. But the meeting between Vucic and Erdoğan is something completely unlike everything listed, since Erdoğan is not one of those great leaders, who should be hugged and kissed god knows how many times, as a brother-in-law, like Toma Nikolic did with Putin back in the day.
Here, however, we have the mixed effects of history and inertia, the inevitable deposits of contradictory atavisms, as well as the conflict or the harmony of modern kinds of Caesarism on both sides. Erdoğan achieved this in an explicitly cruel way, Vucic is learning from his example. But, Vucic failed to completely understand what Erdoğan has accomplished: the Turkish president has absolute control over power, which our local Caesar only wishes to possess. In trying to achieve it, he exposes the most vital areas of society to his ambitious incompetence.
Erdoğan bases his power on the complete control of capable subjects, who have been made aware of the Sultan’s cruelty. Vucic does the complete opposite: he wants his followers to follow him blindly in everything he’s not capable of doing.
Where practical politics is concerned, Erdoğan is an impresive operative, he is able to do whatever he imagines; Vucic can only imagine what he would like to do, but he is usually not capable of it, not brave enough to take draconian measures, or in a position to build the mechanisms required for such things.
Therefore, parallels about the identical essence of the absolutism of the “two presidents” are largely uncalled for. These two government structures are completely different and they both represent quite specific parodies of democracy.
Erdoğan’s festive welcome pointed out all the features of the “poor man’s glory”, which mostly shows the things that don’t exist. In this case, glamor, honesty and grandiose friendship. They don’t exist; the tense intimacy between the heads of states can’t be declared a “friendship among nations,” because we are talking about completely different perceptions. As a consistent destroyer of secularism, Erdoğan has become a powerful proponent of Balkan Islamism, in many ways much more aggressive than its Turkish version.
As the Turkish prime minister, he was mostly openly supportive of the militant rhetoric of the extreme Bosnians and was a scandalous icon at some football matches in Novi Pazar (for example, the sign saying “This is Turkey”).
Yesterday, with epic fervor and lyrical assistance from a local poet, he said to Sandzak residents: “This is my homeland, your happiness is my happiness, your pain is my pain”.
So, this is his homeland, even though he doesn’t actually give a damn about Sandzak. But he was the star of the day and the star in general; next to him, Vucic seemed like a mere shadow of a movie extra and finally saw what a true leader’s charisma, although built on torture, looks like. The homeland remark implies an endemic nostalgia and the message is clear to all those who listened, but also to those who didn’t. A far more important message than the one Vucic made at his inauguration, that some 20 Roman emperors were born in Serbia. By the way, Constantine and I share the same birthplace, we were both born in Nis, albeit he preceded me a bit.
Vucic didn’t oppose the homeland remark, nor did he say that that was primarily his homeland and that he, too, personally feels the pain of the citizens of Serbia. Although there was no Serbian flag to be seen at Novi Pazar square. The event here was also more important than the essence, if we understand Erdoğan’s homeland remark as a symbol of distant ethnic solidarity, without any of the unpleasant connotations.
Even as a guest, Erdoğan acted as a master aware of his power and great influence on the population product of Ottoman history. But some of the hosts, who were deservedly assigned the role of court fools, could not resist treating him like he was Suleiman.
Thus the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the official music artist of the regime, Ivica Dacic, searched for his inner Osmanic roots and sang the irresistible turbo-hit “Osman, Osmanaga …” to Erdoğan.
Erdoğan took his performance with a smile. A minister of foreign affairs who can sing doesn’t actually have to do anything else.
However, Dacic, although prone to excesses of all kinds, didn’t do this. It was Vucic himself with his pathetic plea to the guest and the potential investors he brought. He invited them to bring their money here: “We will give you far better conditions than anywhere in Europe”.
We will give them peasants who work for mere pennies. Just like in someone else’s homeland.
Translated by Marijana Simic
Recommended read: MEDEL / Letters from the Turkish judiciary 2016-2017