All this is happening in a country whose capital is working on obtaining the candidacy for the European Capital of Culture in 2020. In some haughty, uncultured, mendacious country that gets its pleasure from the utterly feeble national official Ugričić and at the same time protects another official with all its might. Indeed, he is not a literary figure but he also did not sign any statement since he is not such a fool. Quite simply, he was accused of war crimes that had been committed at the end of the nineteen nineties against the Albanian civilians in Kosovo. That is all. I am talking about none other than the Head of the General Staff, Ljubomir Dikovič.
"Serbia is great, it's a shame it doesn't exist.
Serbia is terrible, it's good it doesn't exist.*
- to an unknown hero, Sreten Ugričić
Over a year ago, the city of Belgrade applied for candidacy for the European Capital of Culture 2020. Together with the elegantly designed website (www.beograd2020.com), which presents the Serbian capital as an open, modern, dynamic and cosmopolitan city, there has been a series of different manifestations and the hosting of carefully selected local, regional and foreign artists and experts from other fields. We also experienced some recurring visits. All this just to bring Belgrade closer to obtaining the flattering candidacy.
According to the signatories of these lines, this would really be a fantastic thing for this city, which has for too long – whether fairly or otherwise – lived with the horrible feeling that it is being constantly obstructed, destroyed, literally nipped in the bud and disabled in various ways, as well as being incapable of fully spreading its wings and showing it’s "real light" to the world - whatever that means.
It is well known that Belgrade is a capital of lost and badly used opportunities. A city in which frequent wars (which sooner or later inevitably end with the demolition of the city structure that won't ever really be renovated) constantly alternate with periods of wandering, slipping and blindly bumping into walls (which sooner or later end with heavy political machinations and the destruction of any faith in a better future that also won't ever really be renovated).
For that very reason, Belgrade's candidacy for the European Culture of Capital came at the right time – in 2010; a whole decade after the final liberation from the destructive grip of Slobodan Milošević, whose downfall also ended the international isolation of Serbia that lasted for many years. If the candidacy for the year 2020 will actually be realised, it will also present a fantastic opportunity to mark the twentieth anniversary of the same event in the right way – the so-called "5th October Overthrow" protests that caused the collapse of Milošević in the old year of the millennium and created the conditions for the gradual reopening of Serbia to the region, Europe and the world. Twenty years should be enough to finally creep out of the terrible misery of the spirit that we have been shoved into in the period of the rule of Milošević. It is clear to us that twenty years is in no way a short-term period for anything. The Russians set the Russian flag on the Berlin Reichstag in 1945. Twenty years later, the Beatles recorded "Help". Do you understand what I am getting at? Is that really so in our case? Twelve years have now passed since the year two thousand, for us so important. From our unique opportunity. From that so easily released initial point that we nowadays call "Sixth October" with melancholy and indignation in our voices. Twelve long years and now, at the beginning of the decade of the first century of the third millennia, Serbia is a confused republic with a crown in its crest and flag that was double-crossed by its own "patriots". A lost country with an inglorious past and an unclean consciousness that is in everlasting conflict with both itself and those surrounding it.
Serbian society is condemned to constant shifting between hysteria and apathy. An average Serbian citizen is proverbially sullen and disoriented. Thanks to the continuing and synchronous activity of the main pillars of this society (politics, media, school, Church and Novak Đoković), it boils in the brains of this domestic everyman until he or she isn't capable of thinking normally. That is why they foster some extremely uncritical attitudes towards reality. In fact, they are afraid of the present and are aggressively in everlasting search for a new victim from whom to get pleasure with all their anger and frustrations.
And while that citizen of ours – we should not blame him or her since it is known that it's always someone else's fault – fosters an extreme and in some way pornographic love-hate attitude towards politicians, they mostly direct their deepest contempt towards independent public personalities; especially those from the non-governmental sector and intellectuals (except if they contribute to the identity of the country and belong to the category of national bards, which they indiscriminatingly and blindly adore), since they experience them as personal opposites on the intuitive level. That is, as anti-Serbs.
Everyone who brings out the nuances of one's thoughts in their public speech and aren't straightforward; that is, everyone who rethinks the truth in their country (in which, as someone recently observed, genocide is a banned word unless it is denied); everyone who doesn't bang their fist on the table at least once during their reply or doesn't scold their partner in dialogue – they don't have a chance
This often grumbling and silent anti-intellectual disdain sprang up in the days of January 2012 with some general unanimous consensus of politicians, media and the always on-call citizens' assembly and in some collective hysteria that became prevalent causing the manager of the National Library of Serbia, Sreten Ugričić to be replaced on an expedited basis by martial law in a procedure which is here called a "telephone government session". And all this just because he, a man of letters and a person entitled to his own opinion, signed the campaign of the Writers' Forum against the incredible media and political agitation that was at first directed against a Montenegrin writer Andrej Nikolaidis. And as Nikolaidis was completely demonized in Serbia because of his now notorious text – which was published under three different titles on three internet portals in three days – and charged with nothing less than encouraging terrorism against the entire government, Then just because of that one signature, Ugričić was charged with the same thing. The police minister and former close co-worker, press representative and clone of Slobodan Milošević, Ivica Dačić publicly threatened national official Ugričić with imprisonment. He swiftly organized a media campaign against Ugričić that was opened by the Belgrade newspaper Press. He was replaced in less than twenty-four hours for the above mentioned "crime".
The politicians and media retracted – but the most shameful thing here is the subservient and extremely slimy way in which everything was prepared and how it was received so gladly by a major part of our citizens. These citizens actively participated in the collective creation of public opinion by writing general estimations and value judgements on the portals of the larger media, numerous forums and social networks on both the text of Nikolaidis (which it was clearly evident almost no one had read) as well as Ugričić’s role in the situation, which was spoken about freely and mostly spitefully.
Some claim that this is an integral part of the creation of public opinion and that comments in forums are even written by agencies responsible for this, but I don't agree with that. I claim that our public opinion – precisely how it is – is at the same time our most important Agency.
Anyhow, in those days of January 2012, many suddenly felt that they had returned to the blood-thirsty atmosphere filled with hatred in which we were living at the start of the nineteen nineties. It is not just Nikolaidis and Ugričić who are isolated and at the mercy of the media onslaught by those whose pride, as it turned out, rendered them incapable of understanding the layered and provocative metaphor about poetic justice. Numerous members of the Writers' Forum, as well as many others who signed their statement, were challenged, given offence and charged with many things in a magnificent atmosphere that hasn't appeared in connection with any text for a long time. Often those exposed had names that sound completely non-Serbian, such as the name of the founder of the Forum Filip David or one of the more visible members László Végel
The list of members was examined in a determined search for potential victims of this offensive and absurd attempt at a purge, which its victim Sreten Ugričić humorously termed a "drill for '24-hour replacement'". All this is happening in a country whose capital is working on obtaining the candidacy for the European Capital of Culture in 2020. In some haughty, uncultured, mendacious country that gets its pleasure from the utterly feeble national official Ugričić and at the same time protects another official with all its might. Indeed, he is not a literary figure but he also did not sign any statement since he is not such a fool. Quite simply, he was accused of war crimes that had been committed at the end of the nineteen nineties against the Albanian civilians in Kosovo. That is all. I am talking about none other than the Head of the General Staff, Ljubomir Dikovič. Of course, nothing has been proven yet and I do not claim that I know any details. But for me the very fact that the country which so convulsively defends this general throws a great deal of suspicion on his alleged innocence. If his hands were not bloody to the elbows, they would not deal with him at all. It is clear even to small children that in contemporary Serbia nobody is as well protected as the criminals.
That is why I cannot suppress the urge to ask whether, given the circumstances and where we are living and given what is happening and the way we are, is it even worth thinking about Belgrade becoming a European capital of culture in eight years time?
Can we manage it?
(With or without a fancy website.)
I mean, could we possibly manage to be the damned European capital of culture 2020?!
As I have already said, it would really be a fantastic thing for a city that has for too long – whether fairly or otherwise – lived with the horrible feeling that it is being constantly obstructed, destroyed, literally nipped in the bud and disabled in various ways, as well as being incapable of fully spreading its wings and showing its "real light" to the world – whatever that means.
But don't you think, as I feel myself, that perhaps it's still a bit too early for something like this?
That is why I, as an inhabitant of Belgrade, patriotically propose that we resign from the candidacy. So that we will not bring shame on ourselves. Let us wait a bit – let's say a decade, perhaps a century. Why not? In this way, we'll buy some additional time that we will devote to real work on ourselves and getting our act together – at least to some extent. We aren't exactly good at this, but time is on our side.
After all "Belgrade - the European Capital of Culture 3020" doesn't sound so bad.
* "Србија je divna, šteta što ne postoji.
Србија je jeziva, dobro je što ne postoji."