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On Kosovo, raspberries and gay pride

You might think that I confused something in the article title, made a connection where a connection cannot be made, mixed “frogs and grandmothers” [referring to a gaff of a Serbian politician, who in a formal address in English used a literally translated Serbian counterpart for “apples and pears”, tr.] First of all, it is not I who established this connection, but rather Ivica Dacic, the Minister of Police. Secondly, this is not nonsense. On the contrary! This is the essence of Serbian politics. As it has been for already two centuries.

Just a day or two ago, the Minister declared: “In the situation where aggression in northern Kosovo can begin at any moment, the protest of raspberry producers and the gay pride are the last thing we need”. These words are the key to all political ideas in Serbia, the recipe on how to rule and the core of all problems. This sentence, in other words, means: do not bother us with these economic issues now, and especially not now with those human rights, when there is a drama unfolding in Kosovo. Well, this is exactly what “Kosovo” is meant for. This is the mantra that enables everything to be kept frozen at all times. This “question above all questions” prevents us from asking any other questions, inhibits other flows, and above all, hinders the development of Serbia.

And so it has been since the 19th century. From the moment the national policy was formulated, in mid-19th century, it was clear that it was hardly feasible. In order to move to the west, to Bosnia, the Ottoman Empire had to be defeated, and later, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In order to move to the south, to Kosovo and Macedonia, once again the Ottoman Empire stood in the way, as well as several neighboring, similarly ambitious national programs. The support of at least one of the great powers had also to be won. And, naturally, this did not go well. Decades were spent on these attempts. Several wars were waged. All the money was spent on fulfilling national goals, and every kind of development was halted. And there was always the same sentence: “We will easily deal with democracy, railroads, roads, education, healthcare, quality of life, standard of living… once we solve the question above all questions, once we trace clear borders of our country”.

However, the borders are not clearly and definitely traced even today. More precisely, Serbian policy makers were never satisfied with its borders. Even when they were at their “maximum”. And all the questions remained opened. And each political generation unmistakably understood the benefits of such politics. If you set an unachievable goal, everything becomes possible: maintaining permanent tensions in the society and securing electoral victories – because you are the only one able to achieve “the unfulfilled dream”; replacing daily issues and inconvenient subjects with the issue that has been proclaimed as the most important; obstructing the development of democracy, because “right now, more than ever, we need to congregate and follow one line of thought”; hindering economic development because all the funds, which are already low, are poured down the hole of failed politics. Without economic development a society remains untransformed and pre-modern – authoritarian rule is easy in a pre-modern society. If a crisis of power does happen, the authorities will remind the ungrateful ones that “it is not the right moment” and that they are on the brink of solving “The Issue”.

All of this was well known at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1905, the magazine of the ruling National Radical Party, in reply to the calls from the opposition for more freedom of the press, wrote: “Today, more than ever before, Serbia needs to be united in order to prepare for the upcoming events, while ‘independent’ Serbian papers keep trying to hinder us on this road”. Thus the magazine, in the same way as Dacic, unambiguously advocated the same political views and, without a dilemma, demonstrated that constantly scaring the population with cataclysms and upcoming wars and maintaining high pressure clearly serves the one and only goal: to restrict the freedoms of Serbian citizens and solidify power.

The opposition wasn’t naïve at that time either. They understood everything clearly. There is a brilliant article the in social-democratic Workers’ paper (Radničke novine), which testifies, in the form of a parody, that Serbian citizens “figured out” this “political philosophy”, as much as a century ago. And not only the social-democrats from 1912 – they also refer to Jovan Jovanovic Zmaj [one of the best known Serbian 19th century poets , tr.], who figured this out during some previous “political drama”. The title was “In the spring”, and the crucial conclusion was summarized in the following paragraph: “In one of his songs, Zmaj predicted the slogan of our patriots – “In the spring!” – by which they promised, year in and year out, that the unification and liberation of Serbs will start in the spring. Right now we can already hear somber voices: that the spring is brining a storm, fateful events. And, while trumpeting about the danger that may come in the spring in a specially tuned, mysterious way, confusing people by not telling them what kind of danger they are referring to, these gentlemen are at the same time preparing for spring elections, which are to be carried out under manufactured tedious political pressure on the electorate and with the artificial slogan: “Defense of the motherland”.

Thus, nothing new. Serbia, too, will not change until such order of things changes, before a Copernican revolution takes place precisely in the attitude towards the relation between Kosovo, raspberries and gay pride. If the state realized that gay pride was important, it would mean it understood that its task, in the first place, was to protect the rights of every individual. After all, this is in its best interests. If the state protected individual rights, it would make all its citizens feel safe, and thus become much stronger in the eyes of distrustful individuals, who don’t believe a word the authorities tell them. In this way, the state would show that it treats all citizens as equal, which is the initial step of the “contract” between the state and the society. It would also mean that it started obeying laws and implementing the rule of law, which would signify the begging of the end of our tradition of party state, which has lasted for almost two centuries. It would be a sign that the state is starting to think in the terms of plurality, that it ceases to plague those who do not resemble it. In turn, this would make it stronger and win the support of the parts of the society that are otherwise not supportive. It would be a signal that the state finally understood that minorities are the key to democracy, that they are an equally important part of the system as the majority, that the rights of the majority are questionable if they are not limited by the rights of minorities, and that, after all, minorities can become majorities in the future. By respecting minorities, we prevent another sad tradition of our society – the tradition of upheavals, revolutions and bloody reckonings. The state would thus understand that it exists for its citizens, and that it is the one that has to change, not them. Hence, it would be a completely different state.

If raspberries became important in our state, it would be a sign that the priorities have finally changed. It would send a signal that development became more important on the imaginary list of goals. It would mean that there was a strategy for initiating this development, an idea what the priorities are, what the relation between agriculture and industry should be. It would mean that the state knew how to attract capital investments, that it had an investment policy. For a poor country where almost all production has stopped, while agriculture is slowly dying, it would be of crucial importance to focus on how to push all of this forward. At the start of the 20th century, Denmark, with all its differences, had almost the same, weak economic results as Serbia. Then Denmark drew a line and decided that there was a place to start from – milk. And so it began. Maybe in Serbia, we should begin with raspberries? But this would require a development plan, a strategy of economic growth, a serious economic program and appropriate fiscal and credit policy. Therefore – if raspberries were important, it would be a completely different state.

Well, if we valued human rights and raspberries, I believe a solution could be found for Kosovo, as well. At least a solution that would not create new lines of refugees.

Translated by Bojana Obradovic

Pescanik.net, 19.09.2011.

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Dubravka Stojanović, istoričarka, magistrirala 1992 („Srpska socijaldemokratska partija i ratni program Srbije 1912-1918“), doktorirala 2001 („Evropski demokratski uzori kod srpske političke i intelektualne elite 1903-1914“) na Filozofskom fakultetu u Beogradu. Od 1988. do 1996. radi u Institutu za noviju istoriju Srbije, pa prelazi na Odeljenje za istoriju Filozofskog fakulteta u Beogradu, gde 2008. postaje vanredna, a 2016. redovna profesorka na katedri za Opštu savremenu istoriju. U saradnji sa Centrom za antiratne akcije 1993. radi na projektu analize udžbenika. Sa Milanom Ristovićem piše i uređuje školske dodatne nastavne materijale „Detinjstvo u prošlosti“, nastale u saradnji istoričara svih zemalja Balkana, koji su objavljeni na 11 jezika regiona. Kao potpredsednica Komiteta za edukaciju Centra za demokratiju i pomirenje u Jugoistočnoj Evropi iz Soluna, urednica je srpskog izdanja 6 istorijskih čitanki za srednje škole. Dobitnica je odlikovanja Nacionalnog reda za zasluge u rangu viteza Republike Francuske. Knjige: Iskušavanje načela. Srpska socijaldemokratija i ratni program Srbije 1912-1918 (1994), Srbija i demokratija 1903-1914. Istorijska studija o “zlatnom dobu srpske demokratije” (2003, 2019) – Nagrada grada Beograda za društvene i humanističke nauke za 2003; Srbija 1804-2004 (sa M. Jovanovićem i Lj. Dimićem, 2005), Kaldrma i asfalt. Urbanizacija i evropeizacija Beograda 1890-1914 (2008), Ulje na vodi. Ogledi iz istorije sadašnjosti Srbije (2010), Noga u vratima. Prilozi za političku biografiju Biblioteke XX vek (2011), Iza zavese. Ogledi iz društvene istorije Srbije 1890-1914 (2013), Rađanje globalnog sveta 1880-2015. Vanevropski svet u savremenom dobu (2015) i Populism the Serbian Way (2017).

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