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Frozen Vidovdan

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Gazimestan, photo: Konstantin Novakovic

An influential part of the Serbian intellectual elite calls for freezing the Kosovo issue. The authorities say they are thoroughly against it, but they’re essentially doing exactly that. Why is it so important to freeze Kosovo, to live an eternal Vidovdan? And what are we, actually, freezing?

I have at least three answers to that last question:

1. We are freezing defeat

You’ve probably also had foreigners ask you whether we Serbs are crazy to celebrate the defeat in 1389. What is wrong with us? That question requires a truly serious response, founded in the theory of the culture of remembrance. If history cherishes victories and heroes, remembrance cherishes defeat and victims. Defeat causes empathy with the weak, the defeated is morally superior, the victim is forgiven for everything, they cannot be blamed. The victim’s position grants them pardon for all future deeds, it is a free indulgence for the future. In political terms, defeat is far more lucrative that victory, it is pure benefit, as we would say today. It can serve as a basis for revanchism, it is a factor of mobilization, it homogenizes the nation, it enforces collective fear and anxiety as important driving forces for some future war. That is why many intellectuals nowadays warn about the dangers of the trend of self-victimization. And so, as Amos Oz says that we are witnessing a “world championship of victimhood”, one of the pioneers in exploring sites of memory, the French historian Pierre Nora, warns of the “tyranny of victimhood”.

But this raises another question – why the Kosovo defeat? There are other lost battles to emotionally bond to; for example, the battle of Slivnica, when Bulgaria badly defeated the Serbian army in 1885. The defeat inspired generations and encouraged clashes. Today, however, that battle is almost completely forgotten. What could be the reason for this? A successful revenge, perhaps? Did that occur in 1913, when the popular song was “For Slivnica Bregalnica” and it seemed that the Second Balkan War had settled the matter with Bulgaria?

That, somehow, is not enough. There seems to be something more to it – revenge is not enough to forget. That “something” might be the fact that Bulgarians are not the top enemy in Serbian collective memory anymore. In her book In the tradition of nationalism Olivera Milosavljevic........

© Peščanik