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SERBIAN SECRET WEAPON
(ANTIWAR APHORIZMS)

SLOBODAN SIMIĆ
(Beograd, 2006)

WAR, CRIMES AND THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SERBIAN CHARACTER

    War, pathological hatred, cruelty, crimes and all the horrors brought by the insanity of war presented one of the most important subjects of fierce satirical criticism in the last decade of the twentieth century. Our best and sharpest aphorists had much to say about this often taboo and delicate subject in a way which was as much uncompromised as it was fresh and original.
 

War in the mirror of satirical aphorism


Aphorisms, just like the humorous, lucid slogans in the demonstrations against the dictatorial regime, were the best defence against the planned massive spread of madness through mythomania, exclusion and fervent hatred. War propaganda unscrupulously played on people's otherwise noble sentiments (empathy with the misfortunate, a sense of injustice, concern for loved ones) and hid disgracefully behind "higher national interests".

I believe that short, meaningful aphorisms, mercilessly unmasking lies and stupidity, helped many people keep their spirit and a clear head. The aphorism was a suitable way to point out the absurd and cruel nature of war, which was hiding behind the emotive smooth-talk of petty political and patriotic rhetoric.

I am going to war.
Goodbye, Father. Goodbye, Mother. Goodbye, reason!
(Ninus Nestorović)

Through the alchemy of the cynical war propaganda, evil becomes good, cruelty becomes kindness, death becomes life and slavery becomes freedom. Aphorisms could achieve what no so-called serious, thorough and documented analytical study of warmongering discourse could. Due to their conciseness and effective humorous twist, aphorisms can easily unmask the shadowy skill of unscrupulous politicians and irresponsible national leaders to present their low and monstrous goals as altruistic, elevated and noble. With an emphasised irony, light mockery and hyperbole, the aphorist manages to reverse the concealment of the true intentions and truth-twisting, thereby denuding and ridiculing politicians, pseudo-intellectuals, professional patriots and other creators of the militant discourse.

We have sent children to death,
So that they can learn what life is.
(Ninus Nestorović)

We had to use war to decide
who was more peaceful.
(Rastko Zakić)

    While mainly ordinary, young, impoverished and uneducated people, conscripted or seduced with slogans about "endangered Serbianhood" and defence of "ancient hearths", died on the front, a small, but well-organised, group of criminals and war profiteers used the mass suffering of not only soldiers, but also of innocent civilians to make themselves rich through merciless fraud and enormous corruption. That this has always been the case is shown by an old proverb: "It's war for some, profit for others". Therein lies a monstrous, but real motivation for war and the prosaic purpose of the "heroic death". Serbian aphorists realised this well and expressed it perfectly clearly, sarcastically and accurately.

If it hadn't been for war profiteers,
it would have turned out that we were in the war for nothing.
(Ninus Nestorović)

Generals did not lose all the territories.
They got huge apartments.
(Aleksandar Čotrić)

As precisely as a scalpel, the antiwar aphorism cuts right into the essence of the problem. It lifts the veneer of "defending endangered national interests" and "fighting for freedom and dignity" to uncover the genuine ugly nature: irrationality and basic passions such as pathological hatred and a thirst for revenge, as well as hidden sadistic, destructive and self-destructive impulses. With an emphasised irony, it uncovers above all the insanity, stupidity and the absurdity of war and warfare.

It was a war of liberation.
The most basic human passions were being liberated.
(Aleksandar Baljak)

They started first
but, later on, the pleasure was mutual.
(Milivoje Radovanović)

We are slaughtering each other again.
We can't live from memories.
(Rade Jovanović)

Genocide cannot be predicted.
It is a matter of inspiration.
(Tomislav Marković)

    Satire was perhaps the most appropraite and, at the same time, the most lethal weapon in the fight against the then dominant crazy militant discourse, against the kitschy quasi-noble patriotic war folklorism which was present in the influential mass media, primarily in the powerful Serbian State Television (RTS). Particularly outstanding in the fight against the Orwellian language of the pro-Milošević, propagandist and warmongering RTS, were the aphorists of the so-called Belgrade Circle, with their effective and lethal humour. With their subtle irony, but also with sharp sarcasm, they showed how dangerous the seductive and poisonously sycophantic, smooth-spoken TV phrases and trite expressions were, with which "Dear Viewers" were brainwashed and filled with viruses of evil and madness every day.

Beautiful spring weather
has lured many snipers out.
(Iva Mažuranić)

Due to many requests from our viewers,
the war was continued.
(Slobodan Simić)
 

War crimes and criminals


The period of political carefully-programmed and media-supported nationalist passion, intoxication and mass insanity lasted for years, like an ominous prelude. It logically continued and reached its peak in the evil times of war with their disintegration of judgement and orgies of savagery. Many participants of these cruel orgies thought that they were all-powerful, that war was a genuine man's adventure and an excellent opportunity to settle the old scores; that there was no punishment for crimes, and never would be.

In war, we were drunk, they were drugged.
It was pure rock 'n' roll!
(Slobodan Simić)

Then arrived the bleak times of sobering up and hangover, the time to be held to account for all the crimes: not only for actions, but also for inactions. With great resistance and difficulties, an inexorably slow and painful process of coming to senses and sobering up had begun. It became necessary that as a nation we face ourselves, without the quasi-historical posturing and mythical idealisation.

    The particularly delicate and painful topics, which came immediately after the crazy wars, were those of war crimes, guilt and repentance. War crimes (the killing of captured soldiers, the massacre of civilians, rape and torture) that had allegedly been committed in the name of the Serbian people were being crudely, naively and cynically negated, absolutely denied and suppressed.

There were no war prisoners.
Actually, at first there were, and then there weren't.
(Ninus Nestorović)

For years, no one could speak about this taboo subject without being immediately labelled a "traitor", "monster" or "foreign puppet". Later on, after the authoritarian power changed, due to the pressure of harsh facts and critical public opinion, diffidently at first, but more openly later, the country's own crimes began to be accepted. However, at the same time, they were also immediately contextualised and justified with phrases such as "it was war", "everybody committed crimes", "they started first" and "we are victims, too".

When we kill someone,
those uninformed immediately think that it's a crime.
(Aleksandar Baljak)

Despite all these attempts of rationalisation, the time finally came when all those who had planned and instigated armed conflicts, all those who had blindly executed insane orders and those who had spread ethnic intolerance and hatred had to pay the price.

Our aphorists were always among the first who boldly, openly, mercilessly and sarcastically spoke about the shameful crimes committed in the name of Serbian nationalism, which is something of which they can be proud. Excavating bodies from mass graves, digging in the recent and painful past, as well as in one's own conscience, is neither pleasant nor easy work which is understandably difficult to bear, even with a little bitter sarcasm and self-irony. Aleksandar Baljak, Rade Jovanović, Iva Mažuranić and others have many brilliant, anthological aphorisms about this painful subject:

Apart from genocide,
there were no major incidents in our region.
(Aleksandar Baljak)

Even if our heroes did commit some war crimes,
they did it in the heat of the fight.
(Iva Mažuranić)

War criminals in Serbia have no right to vote.
We have barely let them be candidates.
(Rade Jovanović)
 

Patriotism and our mentality


The end of the eighties and a good part of the nineties in the twentieth century was a period of national romanticism, nationalistic blindness and narcissistic self-absorption. Serbs largely adored and celebrated themselves as a brave, heroic, honest, just, honourable, truth-loving, freedom-loving and morally-pure people who always fought solely for holy and noble ideals. Hardly anyone, apart from satirists, could say a negative word about our heroic mentality and patriotism, or let alone, make fun of it.

    Patriotism, a genuine love of one's country is filled primarily with positive emotions of love, kindness, concern and responsibility for the homeland and its well-being. Honourable and decent people do not have a need to brag about and show off their love of their country and boast about how ready they are to come to its aid. Their patriotism is, like any true love, quiet, intimate, unobtrusive. But unlike them, during the eighties and the nineties of the last century, Serbs appeared who saw patriotism as a profitable business. Owing to them, the understanding of patriotism and patriots in Serbia changed, became worn out and twisted so much that a decent man was ashamed to call himself a patriot. The word "patriot" became synonymous with a mentally narrow, intellectually limited and narrow-minded man who hated all those who did not belong to his tribe. As Rastko Zakić said: A patriot is a philanthropist within borders. Patriotism became an emblem, a trademark and a password of political suitability and at the same time, a safe refuge for many villains and corrupt or worthless individuals. If I weren't a patriot, nothing would have become of me (Ilija Marković). As compared to the original, ancient meaning of fellow citizen and patriae amans (patriot), a man who loves his country, the word patriot assumed a very suspicious, caricatural meaning.

I am such a great patriot
that I am ashamed to be alive.
(Milivoje Radovanović)

He died for his country several times.
That's how he makes a living nowadays.
(Rade Dangubić)

What kind of a patriot are you
when you are not on the list of war criminals?!
(Aleksandar Baljak)

For some patriotism is a profitable profession, while for others it is an ill-natured passion, something like a drug or gambling.

At the moment of committing the war crime
he was not accountable.
He had a fit of patriotism!
(Zoran Popović)

I don't do anything.
I have taken to patriotism.
(Milivoje Radovanović)

Serbian aphorists effectively mocked the architects of war and demystified their war propaganda, nationalistic madness and the insanity of war. However, it should be stressed that our aphorists did not settle only for criticising and condemning war and unmasking the marketing design of war. The satirist's keen eye saw through the visible surface of the unreasonable violent and cruel behaviour visible to everyone, looking for its true, deeper, yet hidden causes. Apart from indubitable social factors (the demise of socialism and communist ideology, the underdeveloped economy, unemployment, etc.), the massive outburst of irrational hatred also has its deep psychological roots in the mentality of homo balcanicus.
 

Mythomania, the narcissism of small differences and self-destructiveness


Among aphorists there are a number of brilliant literary observers of character who, like psychologists, intuitively and accurately noticed a series of negative qualities of our mentality which we are not happy to recognise in ourselves, but which we gladly attribute to others, our long-time enemies. A particularly prominent trait is mythomania, which manifests itself as a tendency to build and maintain a more attractive, idealised image of one's own people as divine warriors, envied by all. Such a beautified self-image is often in major discordance with reality, although it does not have to be like that: due to where we live, many mythomaniacs in this country reach high positions.

The crazy here are not imagining anything.
They really are presidents, ministers, generals...
(Aleksandar Čotrić)

One of our mentality's most visible traits about which our ethno-psychologists have written, Dvorniković in particular, is what Freud called the narcissism of small differences, which refers to a phenomenon of overly magnifying small differences among related nations in order to deepen and reinforce the existing hatred and intolerance. Dvorniković notices well that somehow "hate for the cognate, similar and familiar is particularly heightened. The sting of fight becomes particularly sharp when it comes to making a difference between related and cognate, but by idea all the more divided. (...) According to the closest nuances, borders and contrasts are even more delineated and deepened. Hatred between cults within the same religion is stronger than between completely different religions. Civil wars between parties of the same nation and the state are even more cruel than wars between different states and nations". The smaller the real differences between particular nations are, the bigger fictitious differences are. On the basis of "narcissism of small differences" one could very successfully realise a strategy for political manipulation which is well expressed in the famous political maxim Divide et impera!, which has, throughout history, done so much harm to our Balkan nations in particular.

We will slaughter each other.
We have no one closer than that.
(Rade Jovanović)

Only death could me and my neighbour part.
That's why I killed him.
(Aleksandar Čotrić)
 

Self-destructiveness


The other side of our national character, the bad side which we refuse to see and acknowledge, has been uncompromisingly and boldly written about by our best aphorists. Pointing out the dark aspect of our mentality, the aphorist has become some our collective psychotherapist, who for the sake of sobering up and recovery, unrelentingly uncovers all the destructive traits of his own people. Among our best aphorist-therapists undoubtedly are Rade Jovanović, Ilija Marković, Iva Mažuranić, Slobodan Simić and Aleksandar Čotrić, who accurately see and ruthlessly stigmatise many of our greatest flaws such as spite, envy, vanity, and particularly self-destructiveness: a dedication to one's own detriment. As many have noticed, we Serbs do not need any other enemy, we alone are enough.

Would you like the lesser of two evils?
Let Serbs choose first.
(Rade Jovanović)

There was no wandering around.
We started going the wrong way right from the beginning.
(Aleksandar Čotrić)

Every nation has a right to self-determination
until self-destruction.
(Slobodan Simić)

    This self-destructive trait, particularly in a time of crisis, armed conflicts and bloody wars, assumes enormous proportions and grows into absolutely irrational, suicidal and necrophilic behaviour.

God willing, we Serbs intend to die for years to come.
If only health served us!
(Rade Jovanović)

Everyone has abandoned Serbs.
Only death is our proven friend.
(Ilija Marković)
 

The voice of the other Serbia


The aphorists represented in this book are considered to be amongst the best representatives of the truly freedom-loving, critically oriented and brave intellectual minority in Serbia in the last decade of the second millennium. By nature of their work, Serbian aphorists, as top-level satirists, not only did not allow themselves, like some of their fellow colleagues, to yield to the epidemics of nationalism, blind hatred and quasi-patriotism, but had enough sharpness, talent and courage to expose the real, ugly, crazy and terrifying face of the "national policy" which led us all together into the abyss.

We did not die in vain.
Our neighbours rejoiced.
(Aleksandar Baljak)

The whole world knows about Yugoslavia.
The war was a good marketing move.
(Slobodan Simić)

The essence of a satirist's work and vocation is to mark, unmask, ridicule and disempower false values and to demystify the quasi-noble sense of banditry, killings of the innocent and mass sufferings. In its essence, satire is subversive, because it ruthlessly and tirelessly destroys illusions, exposes stupidity, vanity, lies, evil and hypocrisy. Bitterness, sarcasm and pessimism are noticeable through irony and self-irony of our best satirical aphorisms.

A nice word can open an iron door.
For example, let's take the word grenade-launcher!
(Rade Jovanović)

Good aphorists do not think that aphorism should serve as cheap amusement to make people cheerful. If someone thinks that aphorisms are often not really funny, he is right. By paraphrasing Ilija Marković, I can establish that: the best aphorisms are not funny. On the contrary, they are bitterly ironic and poisonously sarcastic.

We can still remember the hard times in a nightmarish period of extreme poverty, pathological hatred, insane wars and kitschy “Pink” culture. Some have still not woken up from mythomaniac dreams and delirium. That is why good satirical aphorisms can ease the pain, be catharsis for the soul and enlightenment for the spirit. Instead of "decontamination" and "denazification", to all those who "did not know anything" and "did not do anything" during all those dark years, I would like to warmly recommend, as an adequate "correctional measure" and, at the same time, a real medicine against apathy and inebriation, a daily "dose" of three to four cynical and blackly-humorous aphorisms, such as:

The decision has been made democratically and unanimously.
Fire!
(Slobodan Simić)

We shot them all.
That will be their lesson for the future.
(Aleksandar Čotrić)

I, too, would condemn the massacre of civilians,
but I don't want to take anyone's side.
(Vladan Sokić)

    A proper aphorism is not a cheap amusement, but a brave artistic and moral act, directed at eliminating that which is unworthy, bad, insane and shameful, not only in a society, but in an individual as well. A good satirical aphorism has proved to be an efficient way of defence against madness, primitivism and rudeness. This was concisely and accurately expressed by one of our aphorists: Aphorism is a Serbian martial art (Miša Vojisavljević). A bitter irony and sharp satire sting and hurt, but they also heal. This truth could be confirmed by our best, anthological aphorisms:

Everything could have been solved in a peaceful way,
with the support of artillery.
(Slobodan Simić)

We sat down to talk about peace,
and then both they and us got backup...
(Ninus Nestorović)

    This book of antiwar aphorisms, which has been expertly prepared by Slobodan Simić, will remain as a monument to the lucidity, artistic and verbal virtuosity and bravery of Serbian satirists, but also, at the same time, as a powerful word of protest against insanity and as a warning to all those who would like to use violence to solve disputes and conflicts.

Žarko Trebješanin


Nazad

 

Napomena: Svi prezentovani radovi vlasništvo su ovog sajta, i mogu se koristiti samo u privatne svrhe. Svako javno publikovanje bez navođenja izvora informacija, i imena autora preuzetog priloga, podleže zakonu o kršenju autorskih prava.


 



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