SNS Cadre and Concept of Patriotic Art

Aleksandar Vucic learns

In the course of the last thirty days or so, the Serbian Progressive Party has demonstrated several elementary forms of civilized behavior, which this party obtained through a crash course, similar to the one in Matrix, where Neo learns the art of kung-fu or how to drive a chopper. It is truly a giant leap from Seselj’s troops and the defenders of the word and deed of Ratko Mladic to becoming a pro-European driving force. However, the question remains – whether this study has yielded some true results. Judging by some moves made by SNS, it appears to be so. This includes Aleksandar Vucic offering high-ranking government positions to Milica Delevic and Rasim Ljajic. Adding to this is the image of Vucic, waiting in line to enter the US embassy for the Independence Day celebration. The occasional move of expertise before politics, such as the case with Alisa Maric, who is the candidate for the position of Minister of Sport, only confirms that the new Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) software has taken some elementary steps forward. However, regardless of how hard they try, it is difficult to hide the past, even when all closets are firmly closed and locked. The future position of Vucic as the Minister of Defense, first deputy Prime Minister and the main coordinator of all security services should help keep these closets shut. However, despite the care invested in securing experts for the work in the field of EU integrations, Vucic has made a gaffe in an area neither he, nor anyone in his party understands – the Ministry of Culture. The public has been informed of the SNS choice for this position – the individual in question is Bratislav Braca Petkovic, announced by Belgrade press in the following way: “He is a patissier, importer, conductor, director, mechanic, theoretician, a living legend in car racing, writer, collector, runner, erudite, dreamer, innovator…” Or, as Vucic would say it, a man absolutely acceptable to all. Is this really true?

Without (three Serbian) kings – it’s no good

Politika, Glorija, Pecat, Pravda, Svetigora… these papers have offered us more than attractive interviews with the minister to be, who is currently on the position of cultural advisor to the President. I will not name the numerous talents Petkovic possesses, and which have enchanted our press so much. It is not the first time for a pattisier or baker (Serbian Renewal Movement – Dragan Kojadinovic) to become a minister of culture in Serbia. Based on Petkovic’s answers to the questions posed by journalists, I will try to paint the concept of culture the future minister, and, in turn, the Europeanized SNS as well, will advocate for. This is important as it may reveal something about the attitude of Progressives towards the recent past. Let us start from the beginning. In the interview titled “Megalomaniac projects are pointless” (Megalomanski projekti su besmisleni), published recently by Politika daily, Petkovic defined the main guidelines of his ministerial vision of cultural development in Serbia. On one hand, he advocates a patriarchal approach to the institutions of culture, and, on the other, XIX century foundations for solving current infrastructural problems. Thus he proposed the concept of rotating museums, that is, moving the Tesla Museum to Trg Republike and the National Museum to the building housing the Main Post Office, since this is the place where “the Edict (Hatiserif) was signed, as well as the place where Karadjordje’s tent stood when Belgrade was conquered. This is the place where the remains of St. Sava were burned.” I did not hear any protests from those working in the field of culture, but this is expected. The only thing they care about is keeping their positions, and, as far as cultural heritage is concerned, it can be moved to wherever the minister wants. (And when it turns out one day that the minister and his advisors – for example, Nebojsa Bradic and Zoran Hamovic – did not act lawfully, then they will be left scratching their heads). In the same interview, Petkovic proposed the creation of a Museum of Serbian Dynasties in the City Assembly building, “which would follow the historic period between Jovan Vladimir and the bloody shirt of King Alexander”, because “how many students today can name three Serbian kings”. Such plans presume that the budget will lack funds for the realization of serious infrastructural project in the field of culture, a gap the new minister is planning to bridge with the help of an ancient Serbian invention he advocated for on the pages of Pecat magazine – moba. This Serbian custom is represented by Petkovic as the essence of Serbian collective spirit and the return to folk tradition. Only Dobrica Eric, the poet of rural imagination, has said something like this in the past. Not even Dragan Markovic Palma believes in moba as a form of “social enteprise”. However, it appears that Petkovic knows something no one else does. He knows where Karadjordje’s tent was erected, and can name more than three Serbian kings. Nevertheless, some recent facts were lost on him – for example, the fact that the reconstruction of the National Library lasted four, not six years, how much it cost, how much funding was provided by the state, and how much by foreign donors. These are the facts that he should learn, before he begins solving the problems of any cultural institution in Serbia.

The promotion of crimes in Moderna garaza

There are written traces of the fact that Bratislav Braca Petkovic once worked as a director and playwright. His interviews in which he claims that back in 1972, he directed Razbojnici (The Hoodlums) in Beogradsko Dramsko Pozoriste in a way adopted by Germans only later, best testify to this. This type of boasting is characteristic to people who have stopped working a long time ago – like Ljubisa Ristic, whom Petkovic admires. Generally speaking, in regard to modern drama and art in Serbia today, Petkovic has no words of praise. According to him, theatre “for half a century, has been ruled by holy cows who keep everything under their thumb. They divide between themselves all the awards, the money, and the trips around the world. From executioners they quickly turn into victims, while the victims are all of us: the Serbian culture, the Serbian theatre.”

These words are spoken from the position of victim, or at least a person who was prohibited from realizing his potentials in the field of modern culture. However, when asked what is the worst thing in Serbian theatre, Petkovic opts for the play Zoran Djindjic, directed by Oliver Frljic. His expert criticism goes as follows: “The worst kind of theatre trash, a dilettante play in every way. This is something far from good theatre, and all this was realized using government money. For the act of spitting and throwing up on the national flag in the street, any citizen would be arrested on the spot. In the US, that citizen would do time, while here, since it was done in the theatre, it is proclaimed as art.” After this bout of anger, Petkovic concludes that “the Serbian culture certainly has a future”, and that “art must be patriotic”. Such a comment, having in mind that we are talking about a man of artistic sensibility, leads us to believe that the future minister must have an answer to the question what is patriotic art. However, we found no answer to this question in his interviews.

Maybe we should look for answers in his Modern Garage (Moderna garaza), a theatre where plays are performed and public debates are organized.  Once such public debate marked St. Sava’s day this winter. It was the presentation of the book by war criminal Milan Lukic, Ispovesti haskog suznja (Confession of a prisoner of the Hague). The book was published in 2011 by the Serbian Radical Party. The future minister Petkovic not only offered the venue for this occasion, but participated in this obvious act of justifying the crimes committed in Visegrad, alongside Dejan Lucic, Olivera Miletovic (PalmaPlus TV Station), Milan Milinkovic (who advocates for the migration of Serbs from Kosovo to Russia), and Ratibor Durdjevic (the main publisher and promoter of anti-Semitic literature in Serbia). Milan Lukic is one of the greatest war criminals of the Bosnian war, convicted to life in prison for crimes committed in Pionirska Street and Bikavac, where around 140 women, children and old people were burned alive, for the execution of Bosniaks on the shores of the Drina River and in the Varda factory, as well as for the killing of Hajra Koric. It is interesting to note that the future Minister of Culture was not bothered by these facts about the “literary hero” Lukic. On the contrary, maybe he recognized a patriotic act in his actions. A similar opinion was shared by Vjerica Radeta from SRS, who justified this publishing project by the need to contribute to the “truth” about the war in Bosnia. Milan Lukic, as the paradigm of Serbian crimes committed in the recent wars, represents the link between SRS and SNS, and the process of Europeanization of Progressives must go towards acknowledging Serbian responsibility for war crimes, as well as for the genocide in Srebrenica.

I assume that their European patrons like Herman Van Rompuy made it clear that, with such baggage, they cannot even get as far as Sid (where they often used to spend their time in the past). This is why the appointment of Bratislav Braca Petkovic can be considered an anti-European move par excellence, which may cost SNS dearly, since the Minister of Culture, in addition to moving museums around town, should play an important role in regional and European cooperation. However, this ideological profile makes it impossible for such cooperation to ever take place. For that, it does not suffice to recognize virtue in front of which “Europe has gone silent” in the state-orchestrated performance – the funeral of Patriarch Pavle, as Petkovic claims, musing over the future of Serbian culture. What is needed is a step away from the role of victim and denial of genocide, something that SNS obviously does not have the strength for, which is obvious from the nomination of Bratislav Braca Petkovic., 01.08.2012.

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Saša Ilić, rođen 1972. u Jagodini, diplomirao na Filološkom fakultetu u Beogradu. Objavio 3 knjige priča: Predosećanje građanskog rata (2000), Dušanovac. Pošta (2015), Lov na ježeve (2015) i 3 romana: Berlinsko okno (2005), Pad Kolumbije (2010) i Pas i kontrabas (2019) za koji je dobio NIN-ovu nagradu. Jedan je od pokretača i urednik književnog podlistka Beton u dnevnom listu Danas od osnivanja 2006. do oktobra 2013. U decembru iste godine osnovao je sa Alidom Bremer list Beton International, koji periodično izlazi na nemačkom jeziku kao podlistak Tageszeitunga i Frankfurtera Rundschaua. Jedan je od urednika Međunarodnog književnog festivala POLIP u Prištini. Njegova proza dostupna je u prevodu na albanski, francuski, makedonski i nemački jezik.

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