Latinka Perovic recently said: “The Serbian nation is threatened by extinction”.
Kurt Vonnegut believes: “We all see our lives as stories… if a person survives an ordinary span of sixty years or more, there is every chance that his or her life as a shapely story has ended, and all that remains to be experienced is epilogue. Life is not over, but the story is.” (And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life).
The remaining years are an epilogue – some kind of antique shop of events, a random pile of curiosities, a box, a collection of brick-a-brac.
This can relate to nations as well. Nations can also see their lives as stories. At one point or another, these stories end, but life goes on.
In this Serbian “story”, which indicatively and symbolically started “with the happening of the people”, everything has already happened. The entire drama has been played, nothing happens anymore. In the absence of events, we are referred back to ourselves, both as a nation and as individuals.
The basic plots of the story we have been telling ourselves as a nation for 25 years have been unraveled. The fundamental processes are over, the basic political topics used up. This is how I understood the standpoint of Latinka Perovic that we may disappear as a nation. Not physically, of course, but because the story we have been telling ourselves as a nation has ended, and all we are left with is the epilogue.
In this epilogue, we can see the old actors trying to spur into action this already dead story, only to remain on the scene just a moment longer, before the eyes of the public. But it is obvious that the entire scenery, together with the props and the wasted actors, must be removed from the scene, if a new play is to begin.
Since the story we told ourselves was, rightfully, frequently described as insane, its ending brought a certain feeling or relief. This story gone, the world became real once again. Shapeless, almost unfathomable, yet real. We have come to the moment when even the most fierce protagonists of this insane story, are suddenly calling for reality. Compared to the compromised reality we lived in, a hangover is a step in the right direction.
When I say that “the plots have been unraveled, processes finished, and political topics used up”, I refer to the following:
The end of socialism
The breakup of Yugoslavia
The wars for new borders (with simultaneous falsifying of history)
The pillage of public property
The losing of Kosovo
The October 5 coup
The right-wing coup d’etat
The assassination of the first democratic Prime Minister
The primary accumulation of capital
The trials before the Hague Tribunal
The attempts at facing war crimes
The rehabilitation of the Chetnik movement
I will not talk about the end result of these processes; we all know these results:
Loss of territory
Economic disaster (“industrial counter-revolution”, predatory privatization)
Privatization of institutions, lawlessness
The disappearance of the middle class
General increase of poverty, brutal class division
Disappearance of responsibility
Lack of social cohesion
Centrifugal forces: egoism, cynicism, greed, lies, hate
Creation of a political class and the phenomenon of a kidnapped state
The point is that these processes are irreversibly finalized. This was demonstrated in a symbolical way by the results of the last elections. A high level of abstinence and its articulation in the argumentation of white votes revealed how wide the mistrust in the political process really is.
The idea for this public debate arose during conversations between editors and authors of Pescanik about the strategic stand regarding Pescanik’s future editorial policy. If the current public political discourse still fruitlessly resolves around dead topics (personal intrigues, party bickering, nationalist myths, the four pillars of foreign policy, the alleged battle for Kosovo, the slogan “Both Europe and Kosovo”, etc), is it productive to fool around with these imposed pseudo-topics, or should we try to define a topic that is in the basis of all our dead ends.
I believe that the problems Serbia has are not of a political nature, and that no party politics can solve them, or is trying to. Behind the illusion of political life, the real life of the society is taking place – and the true causes of our long-existing troubles lie there. Parties neither can nor want to deal with this real society. This should be the job of the civil sector, primarily the media and the cultural public. Our problems started with the culture and the media (The Academy of Sciences and Arts, The Writers’ Association, “Echoes and Reactions”, Belgrade TV, Politika, The Book on Milutin, the play Golubnjaca – to name only a few). Despite the modern contempt for ideas as such, someone once said” Nothing ever happened in the world before first happening in heads”. There is no problem that can be solved before being understood first.
I sometimes spoke in Pescanik about resentment nationalism. By thus, I referred to the feeling of bitterness and attempts at self-victimization, which appear when the initial aggressive militant nationalism suffers a historical defeat. These are “the bitter tears afterwards”, of which Isidora Sekulic wrote in the past.
Today, I believe that there is a different, better expression – for that, I am thankful to the recently published work by the prominent French political scientist Dominique Moisi: “The Geopolitics of Emotion”. Here, I refer to the notion and definition of the culture of humiliation.
We don’t have the time, and this is not the place for a more serious review of this book. Moisi’s basic premise is that politics cannot be understood if it is perceived as a game of chess; the role of emotions in politics is very important, and if we do not accept the fundamental influence of emotions, the flow of history is simply impossible to understand.
To me, this sounds very true and reasonable. I will not burden you with empirical research which shows that political convictions do not arise from rational choices and are not products of argument-based deliberation, but are rather consequences of emotional standpoints of individuals, standpoints which have no relation to politics.
Moisi focuses on three basic emotions: fear, hope and humiliation. Why these three emotions? Moisi believes that they “are closely related to the notion of self-confidence, and that confidence in oneself is the decisive factor both in the manner in which nations respond to challenges they face, and in the way they treat each other.”
Simply said, Moisi claims that the expression of these emotions could be summarized into the following standpoints:
HOPE: “I want to do this, I can do it and I will do it” (for example, Djindjic)
FEAR: “My God, the world has become so dangerous, how will I protect myself from it?” (for example, Milosevic)
HUMILIATION: “I will never be able to do this”, and this could turn into “I may as well destroy you, if I cannot join you” (for example Kostunica, Vuk Jeremic, Dveri, Seselj, anti-European nationalists in general – who are tirelessly defending our eternally threatened dignity).
The overall domination of one of these three emotions creates specific cultures: the culture of fear (for example, the United States after September 11th), the culture of hope (India, China), and the culture of humiliation (the Arab world).
Following Moisi’s typology of these three basic forms of political culture, I believe that the culture of humiliation clearly predominates in Serbia.
I will try to demonstrate this with the help of Moisi’s analysis of the elements of the culture of humiliation:
Humiliation is powerlessness, emotion which is primarily the consequence of the feeling that you are no longer in control of your own life, either collectively as a nation… or individually as a person.
Humiliation without hope causes desperation, and gives birth to a longing for vengeance.
If you cannot reach those you believe responsible for your humiliation, you can at least bring them down to your own level: “I will show them what suffering is”.
Vojislav Kostunica: “We will harm those who recognized Kosovo” (setting fire to the US embassy);
Vuk Jeremic (the president of the world) announced that “he will hurt the international criminals in the way they do not expect”. He said he will do it “so help me God”, and that they “won’t know what hit them”.
Novak Djokovic (tennis ruler of the world), for whom it is said that he has conquered New York, ruled China, is perceived as the avenger on the tennis court. This is how he is seen by the public and the media – which is then transferred to the manner in which he sees his own role and to his behavior in the court. This, in turn, strengthens the avenging feelings amongst the public.
The hate reverberates.
The Egyptians did not take their defeat in the Six-Day War only as a military failure, but much deeper, as some king of moral judgment, “they lost their self-confidence”. It was more of a cultural and moral, than a political and economical problem; as if the feeling of weakness, inefficiency and unsuccessfulness was added to the historical humiliation.
There is not much need to prove that this also pertains to the military defeats of Serbia during the nineties. The feeling of humiliation is even greater in the case of Kosovo, where Serbia was defeated by Albanians, “the genetic residue of the Balkans”, as the main ideologist of Serbian nationalism called them. How was it possible for a handful of coal-heavers to humiliate the descendants of Emperor Lazar?
The incompetence of a nation’s own leaders is an even deeper source of frustration, because it was not imposed from the outside.
In our case, we could paraphrase what the winners of the Six-Day War (the Israelis), said after the conflict: “Israel has a secret weapon, this weapon being the Arabs”. Our opponents in the wars of the nineties could also refer to a similar secret weapon; the Serbs – or, if it makes it any easier for you, the Milosevic regime.
The diplomacy of humiliation: the feeling of humiliation is used in diplomacy to play the card of guilt amongst other nations which participated in the humiliation of your nation. This is used to gain favors.
This is how the bombing of Serbia in 1999 or the operation Storm in Krajina in 1995 are used.
Humiliation can also be hidden by a façade of intellectual arrogance, from which the following proclamation ensues: “The future belongs to us, the same way as the past was ours”.
“No candle burns forever”, the western world is facing total disaster. And then we shall see “whose mother will be mourning“.
“I cannot and do not want to be successful in a world they manage and define; thus I will create my own world in which success will be defined as I see fit”.
This is the shortest and briefest definition of the politics of Dveri, DSS and many other right-wing politicians in Serbia.
We should not be surprised that, for a culture that groans under the burden of humiliation, it is unbearably painful to recognize the facts, and that one of the strategies is simple denial even of the obvious.
Suffice is to refer to Srebrenica.
Humiliation is powerlessness, an emotion which is primarily a consequence of no longer feeling in control of your own life, either collectively as a nation, or individually as a person.
White votes were a reaction to this feeling that, as individuals, we have no control over the party state, in which all issues are solved by agreements and deals between parties, behind closed doors, hidden from the public eyes, while the votes won on the elections are used as chips in a poker game. The entire political class groaned in unison over the idea of white votes, because it de-legitimizes the electoral process, which they use to hide their private interests by proclaiming them to be a common good.
In the absence of democratic culture and a strong middle class, democratic electoral processes unavoidable contribute to the strengthening of undemocratic forces.
This is what the white votes understood. At the same time, this reduced the feeling of powerlessness and humiliation amongst voters, which is a huge step in the fight against a culture of humiliation and its destructive consequences.
White votes are not politics. They have a symbolical meaning, primarily on the cultural and moral plan.
Some people have a problem with that, they are annoyed by those “blindfolded by morality”, and they keep repeating Djindjic’s advice that “those who care about morality should go to church”. I understand, but it is unfitting to say that in a church, that is, in Pescanik, because the answer you will get from the church is simply implied: those who care about politics, should join political parties.
In developed societies, a high degree of role differentiation exists. There is a place for both politics and the church in some way – and these two roles should not be confused. That is, one should not expect politics to serve the church, nor the church to serve politics.
Both DS and LDP tried to use Pescanik, and then showed a high level of frustration when Pescanik remained faithful to its proclaimed role – being a free media and a platform for all those who preserve their right and need for politically independent critical opinion, and who answer only to their own conscience.
I believe that every society needs one such Pescanik, and that this is only beneficial for a society, although not always for certain political parties. One should always be distrustful with cries “everyone, everyone, everyone” and calls for unity and single-mindedness. Total unity can be achieved only within a tribe which has a common enemy.
The author has allowed us to print his notes for the participation in the discussion: Wild society – Savage state or Whether an epoch has ended; organized by Pescanik in CZKD on November 26, 2012.
Translated by Bojana Obradovic