While reading the book Serbs and Euroserbs by the political analyst Slobodan Antonić, which is a collection of his articles published in 2006 and 2007 largely in [Belgrade daily] Politika, I noticed that the author often interrupts his analysis and changes from the language of calm prose to agitated speech filled with emotion. Like the hero in a musical who, surrendering to his feelings, bursts suddenly into song in the middle of a sentence. Why does he do that? On comparing several places in which Antonić moves from analysing some matter to its emotive versification, I found that this happens almost always when the political analyst is writing about Kosovo. For example, in the article with which the book opens, he responds to the question of what Kosovo independence would mean to the Serbs as follows: ‘It is not easy for any Serb to speak about this, for it means facing the amputation of an arm; it means learning to live without Kosovo; it means carrying a bloody hole in your chest in place of your heart until a new heart, a new identity, can be found. It is so painful.’ Thus what a Serb finds difficult to say, the Serb Antonić does not find easy either. Fine, let us take this to be the case. Yet you would expect that, as a political analyst, he would find it easier to speak about it than some other Serb who was not so proficient in analysing; because an analyst can apply methods of political interpretation and an appropriate vocabulary which help to clarify even the most difficult problems. This, after all, is what the public expects of political analysts, especially those like Antonić whose studies are published in a daily newspaper. But no, it seems that he is trying to show how hard it is for him too to speak about Kosovo, harder in fact than for most people.
The trouble is that Antonić, in speaking about the problem the Serbs have when tackling this subject, does not have in mind its complexity, its long pre-history, the possibly irreconcilable interests associated with Kosovo, or similar problems which Serbian analysts confront when writing on this subject, in an attempt to help others too to orient themselves. On the contrary, Antonić seems to associate the problem the Serbs have when speaking about Kosovo with the danger that addressing the issue might be seen as an impermissible sign of sangfroid, calmness, almost indifference, towards the sacred national cause. He fears, I think, that his speaking about Kosovo might be understood in this way if it were rational, prosaic and reasonable, i.e. couched in the language of political analysis. He fears that – God forfend! – his analytical discourse might be understood as a sign of indifference, if he were carelessly to apply it to the interpretation of this, for Serbs, sensitive matter. This is why Antonić, when he comes to Kosovo in his articles, usually resorts to wailing for help with the aid of a few blood-soaked metaphors. He wants to show in this manner that he too is overwhelmed by strong emotions at the very mention of Kosovo, that it is harder for him than for the others who choke on Kosovo, because he is a professional commentator on difficult issues and has acquired analytical ability to deal with them. And that, nevertheless, he too must accept the truth that this ability means nothing when it comes to tackle the maddening subject of Kosovo.
This does not mean, however, that Antonić suggests one should remain silent on this subject. If it is not advisable for the Serbs to speak about Kosovo calmly, reasonably or composedly, they can and in fact should speak about it euphorically and tumultuously, tearfully, irrationally and so-to-speak poetically. The author of this volume has tried hard to show how this should be done, which is why the amputated arm, the hole in the chest and similar metaphors pop up in his text. His readers are invited to take this as the model that they themselves should adopt. His recommendation is that, if they do not want others to doubt their patriotism, they should be ecstatic in this manner when speaking about Kosovo. Antonić tells them through his example that no particular talent, e.g. a literary one, is needed for this kind of exaltation, since all that is needed is firm faith, which [under Communism] used to be called high-level consciousness. Nothing new here: our ancients too demanded that conscious elements should sing when the going was hard: ‘Our struggle demands that you sing when confronted with death’.
The rhetorical devices employed by the author of Serbs and Euroserbs for his excursion into moving and pathetic speech are not always satanically bloody, as in the example quoted above. In on least one occasion he proves that one can achieve the same thing with the aid of erotic metaphors. He reminds his readers that the loss of Kosovo is not just the butchering of
Serbia, but also its rape. Not resting there, he has managed in his essay titled ‘One Day’ to turn the metaphorical rape of Serbia into a true politico-erotic allegory. It goes like this: ‘So this unfortunate maiden called Serbia has been raped, and the rapists are big, strong men whose leader is appropriately called Boss Bluto. He is not Popeye’s friend, of course, but he is his countryman. We see the scene when the whole business has already started,but surprisingly it is the spectators, the onlookers, not the victim or the rapists, who occupy centre stage’, writes Antonić. As the readers of the book are expected to know, these are the shameless domestic traitors who call out to unhappy Serbia that she should enjoy the sex: smile, breathe heavily, moan, and ask for more. The author of this allegory is also a spectator, since Antonić too is brought into the story. Leaving aside the rape victim, he is the only positive character in the disgusting deed presented here. He is desolate, he finds it hard to watch the scene, and especially to listen to what the spectators, the onlookers, are calling out. He scolds them, cannot believe that they are so corrupt and heartless. And finally, turning tearfully towards the victim, he manages to say through his tears that Boss Bluto likes to think of himself as a great lover: ‘But, dearest Serbia, you need not pretend for his sake, feel free to weep, and most importantly try to remember them all, those who took their turn over you and those who were enthusiastic spectators, because one day, yes, yes, one day….’.
What will happen ‘one day’? It is possible that Antonić is evoking here the moment of revenge, when the actors in this allegory will change places, in line with the parable of the turning wheel of fortune, which moves those at the top one day to the bottom on the next. But whatever he expects will happen one day, he believes that the day is near. The article in which its arrival is signalled was published in Politika on 13 February 2007, and already by 12 April the article ‘Now we know’ had appeared in the same place. Its very beginning suggests something serious, dramatic, fateful, because it begins with the decametre ‘Kosovo is a great tribunal’. And indeed, in this article Antonić reports, or more accurately sings, that Kosovo is once again helping the Serbs to see who is who, who is doing what, who is true and who a traitor. The decisive moment, the author explains, came with yet another historical speech on Kosovo that Koštunica gave to the United Nations. Following this speech and its reception, the Serbs are able to see themselves, and to free themselves from fallacy and illusion regarding their alleged friends, especially those in the West. If we have fallen for the illusion, Antonić says, if we were unsure as to who was what, we can now no longer say that we do not know, because now we do know. Thanks to Koštunica, hailed by the author elsewhere in this article as a great politician, Kosovo once again shines with all its brilliance for the Serbs. It no longer reminds them of violation, crime and guilt. All that is now gone, Antonić is delighted to be able to say, adding grandiosely: ‘Kosovo as a concept is now for us free of all violation, indeed of all potency. It has remained pure and true, a pure word, justice and injustice have remained in their clear and pure form. It has reached that upon which we stand, upon which we build our world: it has reached our foundations.’
Here too, as we can see, the transition from analysis to poetry functions as a sign that the moment has come when only nationally indifferent people can continue to analyse peacefully – to argue, judge, consider and think. This example shows us, however, another reason too why Antonić avoid analysis when dealing with Kosovo. As an intellectual operation, political analysis demands of the author to take a distance not only from the subject under examination, but also from the national We. Those who however surrender to the WE and enter its service – which Antonić clearly wishes to do, since he often lets the Serb national WE speak in his place – must abandon the language of analysis and rely on another genre of speech that can incorporate the WE. One such genre is nationalist versification, which is undoubtedly the fountain of Antonić’s inspiration whenever he decides to sacrifice his analytical I on the altar of the nationalist WE. Those who say ‘We now know’, meaning not I but the national collectivity, automatically accepts that he as an individual knows nothing and is happy with it.
This is the price of the nationalist cogito: the price which, as we know, so-called patriotic poets – these god-given mediators of the national spirit – are happy to pay. Antonić’s book testifies that the price is not high even for a political analyst. He thinks that, by giving up what he could know and what he could say, he has been richly rewarded with the position of a respected bard of the Serb nationalist WE, and the port-parole of a political elite that has built its political power by encouraging the veneration of the WE.
Peščanik, Radio B92, 07.09.2007.
Translation from Bosnian Institute.