The last book I edited for the National Library of Serbia was the first book of Zoran Djindjic, Subjectivity and Violence, perhaps his best philosophical text. The primary theme of the book is “the conception of a system in the philosophy of German idealism”, although in essence, it is a remarkable analysis of philosophical writings made around the time of the French Revolution. In the first chapter we are introduced to a group of young intellectuals in the Tübingen monastery, of which Hegel will become the most important philosopher. He arrived to Tübingen from Stuttgart during the revolutionary year of 1789. Once there, he subscribed to a French newspaper which had been banned by a royal decree a few years earlier, showing that despite the prohibition, the echoes of the French Revolution could not be suppressed on the right bank of the Rhine. In the book Djindjic writes: “In public places, in bars, people are making jokes about religion that are tasteless and dangerous for maintaining public order; Jesus is being called a fraud and is being put in the same category as Muhammad. Increasingly, during God’s service, public order is being violated, most prominently by student Hegel who reads aloud sections from the book of the French revolutionist Rousseau and gathers around him a small group of like-minded friends”. The revolutionary spirit has, apart from Hegel, evermore possessed students Hölderlin and Schelling, who are placed under surveillance because of their anarchistic activities. Marseillaise is being translated and letters from the French Revolution are being secretly read. Thus begins Djindjic’s book, only to end with a hidden file, in which “appear those who would never appear otherwise”. The last part of the book is devoted to the fall of the first German Republic in the April of 1793 – the Republic of Mainz. Interestingly, the book will significantly anticipate the fate of author’s own political activities during the period from January 25, 2001 to March 12, 2003, as well as the lengthy destruction of what he established over that short, revolutionary time. It is important to note that changes did not occur on the streets of the famous 5th October 2000, but in the upcoming months, in spring of the following year, with the new people, engaging in the form of reform teams, taking over Milosevic’s institutions which were at the time fearful change and revanchism. The most enduring and lengthy work of these reform teams took place in the National Library of Serbia, which today celebrates 180 years of existence. In the honorary seat, at the celebration which took place today, sat a man previously accused of war crimes, one of the closest associates of Slobodan Milosevic, Milan Milutinovic, who was the former director of the Library, an Ambassador and then President of Serbia. With this event, the fall of Zoran’s Republic was finally symbolically concluded.

The Library and Freedom

Georg Forster was a naturalist, a writer, a companion of Captain Cook on his voyage around the world and a court librarian in Mainz. Djindjic cites his notes about the fears of German nobility before the arrival of the revolutionaries. Forster soon became the president of the Association of German Friends of Liberty and Equality, which represented the government of the Mainz Republic. The principle of freedom was the basis of the new state, but very soon the weakness of the Republic started to show. Firstly in the different interpretations of freedom and in the method of making changes to the Constitution. The issue was whether existing things should be completely changed or only improved and complemented. This applied to everything from law to institutions. Similar questions were raised in Serbia after January 2001. The decision was to go with the later, less certain option, meaning things were not to be changed but rather improved. Previously Nenad Dimitrijevic spoke about this in the series called “How to Read” presented at the National Library of Serbia, when he tried to caution about the dangers which may arise from reading/writing the Constitution. This eventually proved to be true. Following the begging of transition in Serbia, the libertarian potential slowly diminished over time. At the time the reforms came to a full stop in 2006 with the passing of the preamble to the Serbian Constitution concerning Kosovo, the president of the Society of Serbian Friends of Liberty and Equality had been deceased for more than three years. The effects of such a decision proved to be fatal for the Prime Minister as well as the society as a whole. A very common phenomenon during the reform period in 2001 and 2002 were groups of enthusiasts who, to the surprise of many employees in conservative institutions actually worked, engaging in all imaginable tasks, from cleaning and painting, to writing the new Constitution, translating European standards, and establishing new values. What was happening at the time in the National Library could have been seen in all other segments of society including the judiciary, the military and the police. Only the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts were allowed their Vatican autonomy. No one there had the urge to do anything, except to revolve their prayer beads and wait for the fall of the Republic. Because of such a decision, the Prime Minister ended up going alone to negotiations with the Red Berets in Kula. And he was not left unaccompanied only then. Mirrored from the top, the same fate awaited the minority which found itself in the antiquated environment of the Milosevic era institutions.

The Fall of the Republic

“Mainz surrendered after a long siege and bombardment of several days in April 1793”, writes Djindjic in the final chapter of Subjectivity and Violence: “The defense of the Republic cost Mainz 6,000 inhabitants. In the presence of the highest Prussian eminence and clergy who came to witness the educating of the disobedient people, the streets were overwhelmed with mass executions. After the bombing, the town lost its former appearance: together with the parliament, destroyed were city’s two churches and the library containing medieval manuscripts from the entire province”. Djindjic’s Republic also ended in complete devastation. First he was killed, after which quickly began the disintegration of the fragile upgraded structures that attempted to reform the system similar to some accessory software. Over the course of the following nine years, thousands of people were removed from the party, the institutions, their positions, the reform teams. The media was corrupted while prominent reformers were disgraced in every way. Some were treated as terrorists, while others became the personification of crime, as the media in recent weeks presented the writer Biljana Srbljanovic. No EU candidate status will help reverse this thorough destruction of reforms initiated by Djindjic. Only the dignitaries of the Church and the Academy of Science and Arts, with the broad support of national security structures, will be allowed to freely to watch the execution of the libertarians. When at one point in time a delegation of citizens, says Djindjic, finally came to the Wurtzberg archbishop to complain about the continuous terror of the Prussian soldiers over the citizens of Mainz, he briefly replied: “The truth is, the revolutionaries should have been immediately hanged.”

Why, then, is the error being repeated?

Peščanik.net, 08.03.2012.


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Saša Ilić
Saša Ilić, rođen 1972. u Jagodini, diplomirao na Filološkom fakultetu u Beogradu. Objavio tri knjige priča (Predosećanje građanskog rata, 2000; Dušanovac. Pošta, 2015; Lov na ježeve, 2015) i tri romana (Berlinsko okno, 2005; Pad Kolumbije, 2010; Pas i kontrabas 2019). Bio je jedan 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. Dobitnik je NIN-ove nagrade za 2019. za roman Pas i kontrabas.
Saša Ilić

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