It is almost difficult to find a speech by one of the political leaders – whatever their orientation may be – which does not mention, emphasized and self-assured as politicians do, Europe and our “inevitable return to Europe“. They speak about it both on the right and the left, so one could say that Europe is a unavoidable paradigm of a road to the future, which is in Europe itself a controversial issue, especially after the experiences which cultural historians mark by a general term – Eurocentrism.
Since recently, Europe represents an obsession for us and at the same time some sort – identity. It is interesting, however – and there is the first paradox – that everyone has their own Europe. The Chetnik “Duke” Šešelj has his, and he sees it as Le Pen does, but so do leftists, and they see it differently in every way.
Therefore, it is not clear what is this Europe that both haunts us as a nightmare and lures us like a greatest obsession. One could think that we discovered that “Europe is our home“; however, more and more there are tirades about a Europe which cannot be our role model. Known intellectuals who are nationally and even nationalistically recognizable in their discourse, are obviously not certain what they mean when using the word and the term which was used for the first time by Isidor de Beh after the Battle of Poitiers. And to make things worse, there is a sort of ambiguity about them, because in a daily-political use, Europe suits them, but when speaking as culturologists, they are against that same Europe.
Some confusions speak of something that defies rational judgment so the problem of our Europeanization requires a closer look.
For example, the intellectuals around SANU know what Europe is, but in their occasional public appearances they turn against Europe and its spirit, culture and civilization. “We were Europe even before Europe“ is a worn out expression with no intellectual weight, but that does not make it less valuable on the ideological scale – it is being used when necessary. On the other hand, intellectuals who are agnostics or convinced atheists, or who are still somewhere “close to the Church“, also have such double standpoint – so one could think that we are the only Europe, the only Christians, since everyone else “abandoned faith“. This is particularly noticable in the fact that they, even when advocating some kind of “Europeanization“, cite thinkers who undoubtedly were principled adversaries of Europe and all things European.
For example, our fiercest adversaries of Europe today consider rev. Justin Popović and Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović their teachers, but when they speak about Europe as the greatest evil, they are inseparable from Justin and Nikolaj. This clearly visible contradiction shows an unripe thought which never managed to overcome this ambiguity, because it remained utterly narrow and provincial.
On the other hand, the left and leftist Serbian intelligence – which was not as numerous as it was claimed – came close to this problem, but never resolved it because it was itself trapped in ideological webs of the “Russian myth“, because it was not free, mostly of provincial narrowness. Even today, we choose for and against, between St. Sava and Dositej, for instance – without the strength to see the cultural and spiritual components as complementary, historically legitimate processes, as was known in the old Europe for a long time.
The confusions are, of course, current – but the roots are much deeper and much more complex, they reach back into the depths of past.
Let us briefly return to rev. Justin Popović whose spiritual experience cannot be disputed by a reasonable person. In his first work The Orthodox Church and Ecumenism – from 1974 – he says that everyone in Europe has abandoned Christianity and that they are a part of a “schismatic legion“. To him, Europe was a “white demon“ where no one has hope for survival, especially those who do not return to the “road of Orthodoxy“, whereby he narrows Orthodoxy to the smallest confessional frame. He goes on to claim that “the European man proclaimed himself God“ so old Europe finally lost its spirituality and it is doomed, which is repeated by the great spiritual shepherd impermissibly often. When speaking about Europe as the incarnation of everything that is evil, today’s followers of Justin use these invocations, with no effort to measure and reconsider them in a modern manner, especially in the light of new facts. So it happens that the thought of rev. Justin is, to put it mildly, simplified or functionalized when necessary.
However, rev. Justin also pointed out that Europe cannot be cured if it neglects man, “firstly man as an individual, and then man as a collective“. His other hypotheses are undisputable, too, but no one cares about them, because many find his distasteful tirades about a rotten and tired Europe more appealing.
However, rev. Justin himself represents an expression of the aforementioned contradiction in the duality of our relationship towards Europe.
He acquired his education in this Europe, whose spirit he obviously did not understand too well. This lack of understanding is the root of the ideas of our modern anti-Europeans’, who turned their teacher’s flaws into virtues. Rev. Justin is right when he talks about the spirit of new idolatry, about the tired and spiritually poor civilization without Christ, but he certainly is not right when he draws his final pessimistic conclusions. He was a man of a strong and active intuition, but his spiritual lagging also testifies to the lagging of thought. He is a typical example of a historic Christian thinker who in Christianity – concretely in the Church – only sees the vertical dimension, while not only neglecting the horizontal dimension, but failing to notice it at all. That is why his social doctrine – in the sense of a church social doctrine – is rudimentary, anachronistic and absolutely useless today, because it represents a form of traditionalism and tardiness of mind which is seen in small, usually closed communities. His other flaw is a more destructive one – it too was made into virtue by his followers and there is, of course, no intellectual virtue in it.
Namely, Rev. Justin took an ideal Orthodoxy and set it against the historical Catholicism, so he got what he wanted – a result which follows such a methodology. The same thing happens, of course, when ideological Catholicism is set against historical Orthodoxy. In both cases, one remains on the horizontal level of simple analogies. The vertical dimension of Christianity – which is the most important to such thinkers – is simply lost there. This weakness of thought by rev. Justin leads to tirades about the Latins who are “old cheaters“, as if many centuries of tumultuous social changes have not passed since the Medieval times.
By some strange law of sluggishness of thought and weakness of intellectual initiative – which rules in the province of Europe – this part of heritage is alive in this part of the world.
Even more interesting is the case of the famous Bishop of Žiča Nikolaj Velimirović who is today considered to be the crown of Serbian thought. It is said about him that “one can only be with him or against him“. Emotional, spiritually disturbed without measure, he felt the meaning of the Apostles’ messages, but as a spirit prone to the poorest compilations, he does not manage to articulate some new and provoking thought. He narrowed the tirades of rev. Justin about Europe to the level of provincial banality. To him, Europe is “incapable of bearing prophets“ and condemned to death unless we, “the barbarians“ from its outskirts renew it. The Bishop of Žiča does not see Serbia in a better light, because – according to him – “Serbia is not Europe and Europe is not Serbia“ so every step towards Europe is a step in the abyss. Fusing parts of Spengler, Haushofer and Dostoevsky – very eclectically indeed –instead of articulated thought, he offered mythology or mythomania which poured out to the edges of the most banal nationalism. A spirit of banality spoke through him, a spirit of a unsurmounted tradition which sees only evil in everything that is different – he considers Europeans, like once Latins, to be just “old cheaters“. In some of his digressions, he goes as far as to claim that we would have been better off had we been conquered by the Turks instead of staying in Europe.
We would not have to return to this “thought“ today if it did not return by itself, again by some mysterious law of sluggishness which follows, for decades, the thought in this region. When both the thought of rev. Justin and Bishop Nikolaj are crucial on the level of current events – which has taken places during the last decades – it becomes clear that our discourse on Europe is a typical example of an intellectually immature discourse. All those contradictions the European thought freed itself of in a natural manner have not been overcome. Besides that, this discourse has something that is incompatible with intellect – it contains fear which originates from atavistic depths, which, moreover, is no ordinary fear. Namely, this fear contains an obsession which borders on paranoia. This is mostly visible in a feeling of self-sufficiency, a tendency towards isolation and even self isolation, and when such situation overlaps with the real state of isolation in which we are in, then such “thought“ is indeed dangerous. Fear of something new, tardiness in modernization processes, fear of something else – those are only manifestations of this deeply rooted fear.
That is the origin of all this duality in our talks about Europe, which we both want and refuse.
Translated by Milan Bogdanovic
From the book Signs of the Times, Mirko Đorđević, Janus Library, In press, Belgrade, 1998.
Peščanik.net, 13.05.2010 .