I have a wild idea; it must be from these sudden changes in the weather: what if Ratko Mladić is obstructing the Peščanik on the airwaves, as well as in cyberspace? I mean, life in the underground can get a bit boring, you have to pass the time somehow, so isn’t it better to do some useful patriotic work instead of playing endless chess games, the way officers do, as a lousy substitute for strategic field operations?

I know it sounds silly, but that does not mean it doesn’t work. Behind all this, let us be frank, is an honored tradition. In that same army – that vanished without a trace like the country it was able to save from anything but itself – in which a certain, at that time completely unknown, Ratko Mladić was a colonel, I was a signaller. Later on, Mladić brutally broke the oath sworn to that army and turned the guns at the people who constituted it, and as for me, nobody asked me anything anyway. But let us get back to that innocent zero moment of my more than peaceful army service in Topčider; on the walls of our battalion there was a sign that read “ATTENTION, THE ENEMY IS LISTENING!” I guess that was because we were signallers; I did not check whether the walls of the military police had a sign “the enemy is subverting”, and those of the NBC units “the enemy is contaminating”, and those of the engineers “the enemy is laying mines”, but in any case, the message was clear in its nebulousness: on the one hand, goodness knows why the Enemy would be listening in on us when we were mostly idling away and waiting for the whole thing to finally end, but on the other, the Enemy had to exist and had to be plotting/listening; it was absolutely crucial to us, for if there was no evil Enemy, then what were we doing there in the first place, except fooling around at the expense of the good and naïve tax payers?

Twenty odd years later, the only thing that changed is that the Enemy seems not to be listening any more, but is rather listened to, and even obstructed. Gone on the defensive, totally cornered. Now, what kind of enemy is the Peščanik? Pretty lame, it has to be said, although the one I faced while I was spreading the wires of an inductor telephone around Košutnjak before amused recreationers was not much better either, that is, it was almost just as imaginary as an enemy, and yet it was necessary: long live the Enemy, for without it, our patriotic efforts become completely meaningless! And so, if there is no enemy, by god we’ll create one, no matter what.

Therefore the situation in Serbia in January 2009 is as follows: the Peščanik is the Enemy, and Ratko Mladić is the Friend. It is hard to find another explanation for the fact that two thirds of the participants in an apparently serious poll declared that they would never ever, even for no compensation, let alone for millions of Judas euros, report Ratko Mladić to that horrible New World Order. If Ceca Lukić were, god forbid, put outside the law, she would hardly find such a large percentage of proud harborers, therefore I conclude that the notorious crimes of Ceca Lukić are far more horrible than Mladić’s, if those even exist. How is this possible? Here’s how: go back to the first sentence of this paragraph. Never mind the Peščanik for now, but what makes Ratko M. a friend of two thirds of Serbian citizens? Why do they feel so indebted to him?

Few things are more horrible or dreadful than those for which Ratko Mladić is indicted. If you look at it that way, hardly anyone would have reason to protect and defend him except his direct accomplices. How do you then get from a handful of accomplices to 65% of the polled adult citizens of Serbia? Option 1: people do not believe he is guilty for the crimes he stands charged with, in fact, they are convinced that is not the case. Here the path branches off into two smaller tracks, two sub-options. Sub-option 1a: it is not Ratko Mladić who is responsible for the crimes, the shelling, the ethnic cleansing, the murders of prisoners and civilians, the genocide, but someone else. Alright, who? Name, address, personal identification number? A meaningful answer is nowhere to be found, unless you believe that the guilt for Srebrenica lies with “the French secret service”, as Slobodan Milošević deigned to declare, delivering some first-rate nonsense. So if you accept that, or something along those lines, as a potentially serious and true statement, the next step is that you will be asked to readily acknowledge that Sarajevo was held under siege by Hägar the Horrible and his band of drunken Vikings. So we move on to sub-option 1b: no one is responsible, for there were no such crimes, they are the invention of the imperialistic anti-Serbian propaganda. The problem with this sub-option is that it implies the existence of mass ritual suicides of ethnically unfit Bosnians, and equally mass-scale self-fleeing, self-burning of houses, self-pillaging, self-confinement to concentration camps like Keraterm etc. Great, except that such things do not exist even in Monty Python.

So we move on to option 2: Ratko Mladić did commit the things he is accused of, but that was the right thing to do, worthy of a medal, not a prison sentence, a patriotic feat, a matter of pride for both him and all of us. One definite virtue and advantage of the second option is that the game is played with cards laid on the table, without the unbearable accompanying hypocrisy. Here the devil is not in disguise, he is proudly flouting his tail, horns and hooves, smelling of sulfurous perfume, asking us all to admit how sexy he is. And indeed, a lot of them do admit it, not without a lusty honesty which can knock you off your feet.

Years go by in this strange limbo. We sort of do not want to go back, and we definitely cannot go forward; trapped in a purgatory closed on both sides, we are often infuriated by mass oblivion, but this is an illusion: there is no oblivion, because there has never been an awareness of the Events That Happened. You cannot forget something that you never even knew, and you did not know because you made a great effort not to find out and not to understand, because it is nicer and easier that way.  This is why things here are the way they are – mostly rotten – and why the Peščanik is the Enemy, and Ratko Mladić is the Friend: because the former is pestering you with its strange demands and standards, and the latter is somehow, by its sheer existence, sending you a message to relax and enjoy, everything is just fine in this best of all worlds.

Now I understand that the sign on the wall of the First Guard Signal Battalion is deeply true and ageless: yes, the Enemy is indeed listening, listening out for History, so bloody, shabby and miserable, and then shamelessly reporting on what it has heard.

Translated by Sonja Mušicki

Peščanik.net, Sandbank, 29.01.2009.

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Teofil Pančić
Rođen u Skoplju 1965. Novinar, kolumnista, kritičar, urednik kulture u nedeljniku Vreme iz Beograda. Komentator Radija Slobodna Evropa. Objavio 21 knjigu eseja, kolumni, kritika, priča. Pisao za sve relevantnije medije u regionu, između ostalih za Feral Tribune, Peščanik, Našu borbu, Autonomiju, BH Dane, ljubljanski Dnevnik, Globus, Jutarnji list. Živi u Novom Sadu.