Sunday, 22 November 2009

In memory, Serbian Patriarch Pavle (1914 - 2009)

His Holiness, the now late Serbian Patriarch Pavle (Photograph © RTS)

His Holiness the Archbishop of Peć,
Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovci,
Serbian Patriarch Pavle

11.9.1914 - 15.11.2009

This article I dedicated to Serbian Patriarch Pavle the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church ('Srpska Pravoslavna Crkva'), who died this Sunday in his ninety-fifth year of life, and was laid to rest on Thursday.

Serbian Patriarch Pavle was born Gojko Stojčević in the village of Kućanci near Donji Miholjac in the region of Slavonia in Croatia, and was one of two sons born into a farming family. He was born before any Yugoslavia existed in the western Balkans, in a time in European history when Austro-Hungary, which still existed back then, was waging war against neighbouring Serbia following the famous - or infamous - assassination of its crown prince and heir and his wife in Sarajevo, Bosnia. One European country after another took sides in this conflict, and thus ensued the Great War, or World War One, which consumed Europe for four years.

Gojko and his younger brother Dušan had a tough start to life, losing both parents when they were both very young: their father Stevan travelled to America for work, but died of tuberculosis upon his return home, an infection he sustained during his time working there; their mother Ana later re-married and bore three daughters, but sadly died upon the birth of their third sister. Following the loss of their parents, they were left to their paternal aunt, who raised them along with her own daughter Agica, their first cousin.

Then another world war raged throughout Europe. For two of those war years, he took refuge in the Ovčar monastery in western Serbia. His brother Dušan was not so lucky; their home village found itself located within the borders of the fascist "Independent State of Croatia" ('Nezavisna Država Hrvatska'), and Dušan, like many unfortunate people at that point of time, was himself murdered by the evil Ustaše.

Following the end of that war, he took his monastic vows and gave himself the name 'Pavle' after St Paul in the New Testament. He rose through the ranks of the Orthodox clergy, from hierodeacon to hieromonk, then from protosyncellus to archimandrite, and then being elected to the office of Bishop, serving his post in Kosovo for over thirty years.

Patriarch Pavle, from smedia.rsFinally in 1990 and right on the cusp of war, Pavle was elected to the highest office of his church, attaining the title of Archbishop, thus becoming the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church. And it was during this turbulent period of Balkan history characterised by war and war crimes, that he found himself in the company of various Serb wartime leaders, reviled throughout the world for their notorious actions against non-Serb civilians in the republics that had secceeded from Yugoslavia. This was also a period of "isolation" for Serbia, being outcast as a "pariah" state by the international community, because of its leaders' involvement in the bloody wars in the neighbouring ex-Yu republics. This period, that consumed a whole decade, brought economic sanctions that crippled Serbia's economy, and moral meltdown that has corrupted Serbian society to its core.

Many of those same non-Serb victims of those Serb leaders' catastrophic policies against them, are critical of the late patriarch - and in turn, critical of his entire church - for at all associating with those people who ruined their lives, and even giving them support at the beginning of the war period.

On the other hand, that same patriarch also shared in the company of Serbia's anti-Milošević opposition, and stood alongside hundreds of thousands of people in the massive anti-government protests in Belgrade of 1997. On a number of occasions, he had openly confronted Milošević over many of his failed policies.

Apart from politics, Patriarch Pavle led a very humble existence according to his Orthodox Christian faith. He was called by many a "Saint that walked, or 'Svetac koji hoda', as he didn't drive a car, preferring instead to travel from one place to another on foot. And whenever asked why he didn't own a car, his famous reply was, "I will not purchase one until every Albanian and Serbian household in Kosovo and Metohija has an automobile!"

In the background of all the turmoil in the Balkans and the lowlives responsibile for all this mess, Pavle was one of very few people in the public eye who were truly genuine; what you saw was what you got from him, and there was absolutely no pretense about him.

Here's something the late patriarch once said in response to criticism about him. And what you're about to read is something that you've never heard from any of those Serbian nationalists and never will hear!

"Some have accused me of calling upon the Serbian people to destruction, to this misfortune and war, only so a Greater Serbia could be maintained. I have told them, and I repeat this to all now - if a Greater Serbia had to be maintained at the price of something inhumane, I would not agree [to it]. I wouldn't agree to even a small Serbia being maintained at that price. If the last Serb had to be maintained at the price of something inhumane, and if I had to be that Serb, I would not agree to it. For us, it would be better that we cease to exist as a people, rather than for us to exist, to biologically survive, as criminals and non-humans!"
(My translation; original Serbian at Blic Online)

Personally speaking, I believe in the existence of soul, that there is life after death, and I believe in some kind of universal energy that could be called God. I am not a member of any church and don't practice any specific faith. Nevertheless, I do agree with the fundamental tenets of Christianity that are compassion, forgiveness, non-judgmental attitude and humility, and I believe the world can never have enough of them!

What inspires me most about Patriarch Pavle, which I have mentioned above, was his character, which exuded humility and modesty according to fundamental Christian beliefs, and also his wisdom, which promoted decency and honesty in all people.

A lot of my fellow Serbs following the simultaneous collapse of Communism and the rise of Nationalism, today consider themselves "big Serbs", or 'veliki Srbi', and even "great Orthodox folk", 'veliki pravoslavci'. (Let's not get dragged into the whole "heavenly people" ('nebeski narod') idea!) Pavle not only knew those things better than a lot of Serbs, he was fundamentally a true Christian, who understood what he believed in and knew what he was talking about!

Serbian Patriarch Pavle at the Peć monastery in Kosovo, 2006 (© of people in the Balkans and elsewhere round the world, regardless of religion, are overly proud and full of themselves in their personalities. Pavle, on the other hand, was a humble human being in his soul and full of decency in his heart, both of which characteristics manifested themselves in his modest way of life and in his interactions with people. This example of his can be followed by everyone of any religion or none whatsoever!

Of course, Pavle served as patriarch during the toughest period of Balkan history since World War Two. So much religion and nationalism combined was shamelessly branded about and used to fuel hatred and create a climate conducive of war and all its horrors by some of the most cynical individuals you can find anywhere on this earth! Contraversially, the late patriarch had on a number of occasions shared company with such people.

Patriarch Pavle at prayer, picture from frmilovan.wordpress.comWhat was so disastrous about those disgraceful leaders, who had been put into positions of power and responsibility, was that they decided the destinies of millions of people. And because of the nature of their policies, they brought them pain and misery and turned their lives upside down!

Yet, had any of those same leaders of the turbulent 1990s had even a tenth as much wisdom and honesty inside them - let alone humility! - as Pavle had inside him and exuded for all to see throughout his service to God and people around him - and like I mentioned above, they themselves had been in his presence more than once! - the whole history of western Balkans during that time as we know it would've turned out completely differently!

I've been hearing quite often how his passing is a loss to Serbia, to the church, and a loss for other reasons. But in my opinion, that someone like him lived amongst us in our tumultuous part of the world for all that time that he did, represents the greatest gift to all of us and the greatest blessing that we could've received at such a time. And now, that his soul has ascended from this earthly plain and has started its new journey in the next life, his memory here will remain a blessing and constantly provide a gift for future generations of people from the former Yugoslavia and beyond!

His life and presence in one was a gift and inspiration to all of us, Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim or whatever! In life, he was known as a "living saint", or 'živi svetac' in our language. Now he really is one!

Vječna ti slava i fala patrijarše - počivaj u miru božjom!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

History that offends people

How can one nation's view of history - including views of their own national history - raise so much indignation and even add insult to injury to (an)other nation(s), and lead to constant arguments over a variety issues relating to history, culture, etc.?

This is such a peculiar problem that particularly polarises the people of the former Yugoslavia, where I come from.

Many Serbs where I come from are resentful of Croatian national pride and symbols thereof; on the other hand, Croats are pissed off by national symbols of Serbdom and pride therein; whereas Bosniaks in the middle of the two are offended by both Serbian and Croatian national symbols and national pride in both of which alike!

As you can see, each former Yugoslavian ethnic group dispises the patriotism/nationalism of the other ethnic groups, often detesting one brand of patriotism/nationalism more than the others. But there is also an even bigger debate that has risen to such fever pitch under the dark shadow of the recent wars during the 1990s, that produces dispute after dispute, quarrel after quarrel, curse after curse, and even punch after punch, regarding all and sundry that has ever befalling the Balkan peoples in both ancient times and the recent past.

And what's fascinating about all this bickering and bashing is how national historians, common people and even elected politicians interpret former Yugoslavian history to befit their own political and social agenda, and more personally, they interpret their nation's/nations' entire history/ies from the arrival of the Slavs on the Balkans onwards through their own personal experiences from relatively recent times!

The Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Albanians and other Balkan nations are very proud people, and each look back at their nation's history as a source of their national identity. And each nation's history tells a story of their nation's many military, artistic, architectural and scientific achievements, including the celebrated individuals from their nation that made such successes possible, which without a doubt makes them proud to be who they are. On the other hand, these histories also recount their nations' plight, suffering and victimhood, wrought upon them by imperial nations like the Ottoman Turks from Asia Minor and/or the Austro-Hungarians from Central Europe, or by neighbouring Balkan nations that live near to theirs.

On national TV stations, the state broadcasting companies of these modern-day Balkan states produce detailed programs that chronicle their nations' past, relating important events that had an eternal impact on their people, and exhalting their people's proud sons and daughters, who are celebrated for their great personal achievements, and have become paragons of virtue that these people look up to and feel proud to belong to the same nation which those icons were born into.

On the Internet, however, there is more of a chance for people from these nations to share their views and opinions with each other, but not necessarily agree with each other. On message boards, online encyclopedias like Wikipedia and even video-sharing sites like YouTube, Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Albanians and other Balkan adults and teenagers argue fiercely about history, both ancient and recent. They recall what they endured during the recent wars of the 90s, and they describe what their grandparents and great-grandparents lived through during the Second World War in the 40s. And while people from each Balkan ethnic group believe in what they've heard and therefore uphold as true, people from the other sides will probably think that they're telling lies, exaggerations, that they're brainwashed by NATO/the West or by Milošević, or God know by what.

I should know; at many places on the internet, I've seen so many nasty comments from members of these nations, many of which expressed the individual's hope to f*ck as many mothers from the other side(s) as they could! These were and are some of the most vile examples of Racism and hate speech you will ever find on the net, so full of venom and spite, there's enough of it to make you feel sick.

Why does claiming to be a victim insult different people?

So, let's consider Ottoman times, and how Serbs and Bosniaks view this period in different ways.

Most Serbs have learnt from their parents and grandparents that Turkish rule was very oppressive, and that the Turks did a lot to destroy Serbian identity, which is fundamentally the Serbs' Orthodox Christian faith, and also the Serbian people themselves. Such destruction includes taking their baby boys to become soldiers for the Ottoman Army (Jannisaries or Janjičari), raping their women if they couldn't pay the Kharaj or Harač tax, conversion by Orthodox Serbs to Islam, and the burning of the holy remains of Serbian Saint Sava by the Albanian Sinan Pasha at Vračar in Belgrade.

On the other hand, many Muslim Bosniaks see things from a completely different angle to the Serbs. For them, Ottoman rule was a time of honest rule by the Turks, cultural advancement of the region, and most importantly, of tolerance towards different religious communities and peace. As far as they are concerned, the Turks were very fair towards the local Christians and Jews, offering them a right to practice their faith without intrusion, and fostering inter-faith cohesion between all people in Bosnia.

So how do these contradicting views concerning the distant past relate to the recent wars? And why does the Bosniak view of history offend Serbs, and vice-versa?

Serbs are offended by the Bosniaks' insistence that Ottoman rule was an idyllic society and that it represented a serene period of history, because that is not the story that their parents and grandparents heard from their parents and grandparents who lived during the 19th century when the Turks still ruled a large part of the Balkans.

While Bosniaks are offended by the Serbs' insistence that, during Ottoman rule, the Turks persecuted them, raped their women and stole their children from them, because they were victims of ethnic cleaning (including rape) perpetrated very recently by Bosnian-Serb forces under Radovan Karadžić and General Ratko Mladić in Pale.

(It must also be added that, just before the war in Bosnia, Bosnian-Serb media used the Serbs' collective memory of Ottoman times to encourage hate and vengeance amongst them against their Muslim neighbours, with whom they had been living in relative harmony for over forty years since the end of the Second World War.)

And so it seems that, based on the above examples, both Serbs and Bosniaks are offended by each other's sense of victimhood, whether it was experienced hundreds of years ago or just a decade ago. When one nation recounts its own accounts of victimisation by others, another nation counters those same anecdotes from that nation by accusing that nation of victimising their nation!

This is the exact same phenomenon we can see between Croats and Croatian Serbs regarding the Second World War and the recent war in Croatia.

Elderly Serb survivors from that apocalyptic period of history still remember their horrific experiences wrought upon by the Ustaše under the fascist leader Ante Pavelić. While their children and grandchildren practically inherit their parents' and grandparents' sense of victimisation as was recounted to them, and relate it to what they personally experienced from 1990 to 1995.

Croats, however, are not keen to be reminded by Serbs of the infamous Jasenovac concentration camp and other atrocities committed by the fascist Ustaše in the 1940s, or other atrocities committed by Croats upon Serbs in any other period of history, as many of them were themselves victimised by Krajina-Serb forces under Milan Martić and Milan Babić in Knin not very long ago in the 1990s.

(Like in Bosnia, the Krajina-Serb media in Croatia reminded Serbs of the genocide perpetrated against them during the Second World War. And because of that, the Croatian media has often blamed the Krajina-Serb authorities of stirring up hatred in Serbs towards Croats, and that that led to war crimes being committed against their people.)

So once again, we see Serbs affirming their own sense of victimhood that they've inherited from their anticedents who in some way experienced persecution by Ottoman Turks hundreds of years ago, or genocide by Ustaše Croats more than half a century ago; while Croats and Bosniaks respond to such claims with their own experiences of suffering caused by Serbs in much more recent times.

However, in such arguments revolving around any of these nations' suffering caused by another, you'll constantly hear or read claim after counter-claim, along with denials, minimisations and justifications. And sometimes you'll hear racist cursing being thrown around, which often includes f*cking the mothers of the enemy nation(s) and over-riding statements of how evil the other nation(s) generally is/are. But most of all, the deep, underlying feeling that all these people feel inside and express in such uncomfortably vile ways is a feeling of pain caused by humiliation, whether personally experienced or inherited from relatives, brought upon them by others because of who they are. That same pain has a corresponding desire for justice, which can often include revenge, for their lost loved ones, and in turn, for their entire people.

Interpretations, interpretations, and more interpretations!

When investigating the appalling suffering that these former Yugoslavian nations experienced caused by formerly fellow Yugoslavs during the 90s, we are usually dealing with first-hand accounts that, thanks to the World Wide Web, one can easily find them on many websites on the Internet and read them at length and perhaps see a few featured pictures and films of these terrible events. One can do the same with when researching the two World Wars and two Balkan Wars in the first half of the last century.

But what about more distant periods of history, like the Dark Ages, Middle Ages, and even the Ottoman period? How are these periods viewed by ordinary people, and how are these views affected by what they are taught in schools, universities, and by TV programs?

What's interesting is how ordinary people, many of whom were victims and survivors of the turmoil of the recent conflicts, and thanks to the rise of Nationalism and the break up of Yugoslavia that came about thanks to that rise, have reinvented their identity, specifically their national identity in response to the new political circumstances around them, but also due to their own personal experiences during those conflicts. And part of that reinvention was also a re-education with regards to their people's culture, religion and history. And through this re-education, many Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks have discovered - or perhaps re-discovered - aspects of their cultures and religions they didn't learn about during their shool days under Marshall Tito. And most importantly, these people have also found out about many events in their peoples' ancient and recent history, stories of their peoples' great men and women and their achievements, and even information regarding their peoples' ethnic origins, that they may not have heard of likewise during Tito's time.

You'll find on the Internet numerous Serbian, Croatian and Bosniak websites dealing with their people's Dark Age and Middle Age history. And like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, you'll find numerous articles on Wikipedia dealing with Yugoslavian, Serbian, Croatian and Bosniak history, culture, language and famous people. Along with each of these pages you will find the "discussion" tab on the top, and if you press that tab over articles dealing with the most hotly disputed issues affecting people from the former Yugoslavia (like the recent wars, the two World Wars and even the language of Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks), you will be directed to long, drawn-out pages revealing tiresome, lengthy and annoying discussions and arguments regarding a hundred thousand and one details relating to this and that, this and that person and this and that event from one side and another! I usually avoid touching that tab over such articles.

On Wikipedia and elsewhere on the web, Serbs and Croats in particular talk about the origins of their ethnonym (their people's national name); Croats have long maintained that their name is of Iranian origin, while Serbs likewise insist that their name originates in Asia. They also celebrate the arrival of their ancestors' ancient Slavic tribe that came to the Balkans from somewhere further north and/or further east in Europe. While Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks alike celebrate their peoples' medieval kingdoms, and each go to great lengths in explaining which regions of the former Yugoslavia was populated by their people, in order to justify their people's right to claim those regions as their own.

I've been to many of those websites in my teens (admittedly, I didn't have much of a social life back then! :-( ), and found many of them to be either particularly informative or annoyingly full of propaganda, or amazingly both informative and full of propaganda! Personally speaking, my teens was a time when I was developing my own Serbian identity, and even with me this included discovering events - or details of events - in my people's history that my parents may not have been aware of, and various aspects of Serbian culture from different regions within the former Yugoslavia and without.

But now that I've grown up and become more critical of blind patriotism, and at the same time developed a firm opposition to all forms of extreme nationalism in the Balkans and elsewhere, I wonder how can people be so sure about periods of history that they've learnt about from God knows where, that not even their own grandparents and great-grandparents were aware of?

I also realise that much of the history promoted on these websites are based on the literature of various national historians, i.e. interpretations of history by learned people, academics. But only God knows if those same wise guys produced those lengty opi with honest intentions, or did so with some kind of agenda in mind.

Regarding Bosnia, Serbian historians are inclined to claim that Bosnia is historically Serbian land; Croatian historians firmly assert that Bosnia is historically Croatian land; while Bosniak historians in the middle understandably deny that Bosnia was either Serbian or Croatian land! God only knows who's telling the truth!

This will sound bold of me, but I think that what a lot of ordinary people do as far as more distant periods of history are concerned, in which their own much distant ancestors lived in, is practically guess history: based on certain historic themes they learnt from their own parents, grandparents and from textbooks at school, they fill in the huge blanks with their own imagination. This leads them to assume what daily life was like for their ancestors with a keen eye on the struggles they faced.

It's understandable that people do this, because they themselves didn't actually live in those times, so all they have are stories passed down to them through countless generations, and their minds' own imagination to complete the picture.

Nevertheless, we also have television and TV companies, that can produce blockbuster movies starring iconic actors, dressed in the fashion of a particular era being examined, set in surroundings relevant to the story being put on show; taylor-made and staged for a national audience, such films are released with the obvious purpose to commemorate either a single great event, or a number of which, of great national importance. And depending on who the producers of such a production are, what their stated or unstated aims are, who is cast to play the major roles in the story, and most of all, how the historical event in question fundamentally relates to their target audience, film classics that stir a nation and hit movies that reach into their colletive psyche are made; an affirmation of a nation's beliefs of who they are as a people conveyed through film.

However, professional historians in the world's most respected institutions need to do much better than that! They have a duty and obligation to access and examine the primary sources from whichever century they are interested in, and base their knowledge of those periods of history on precisely such tangible evidence from those times, whether ancient or recent.

But most ordinary people are not professional historians! Instead, many of them are actual witnesses to terrible events that occurred in their part of the world. And like I mentioned above, it's these interpretations of their people's history that form part of the foundations of their modern-day post-war national identities, which affirm who they are and offer them comfort and a sense of strength.

"You are NOT who you think you are! Hahahahahaaa!!!"

One very peculiar habbit amongst Balkan historians and Balkan lay people alike (mentioned above under first subtitle), as far as the histories of these ethnic groups and others in relation to them are concerned, is the denial of the other group's or groups' identity/ies, questioning the basis of their identity/ies: "You are not who you think you are!"

Croatian historians have often propagated the opinion that Bosnian and Croatian Serbs are not really Serbs but descendants of Vlachs or Vlasi, which is a term that in the Balkans often refers to Romanian-speaking shepherds. This alternative origin for Serbs from Bosnia and Croatia is also shared by many Bosniaks, historians and lay people alike. Nevertheless, Serbs respond to this by claiming that all Croats are actually descended from Orthodox Serbs who converted to Catholicism, and thus became Croats!

Bosniaks - again in the middle! - are claimed by both Serbian and Cratian historians as descended from Orthodox Serbs or Catholic Croats respectively. Of course, Bosniak historians counter these claims with their own claims that the medieval ancestors of modern Bosniaks, including Bosnian Serbs and Croats, actually called themselves Bošnjani, and by faith were Bogumils, members of a Christian sect that was labelled as heretic by the Catholic church in Rome!

However, what is funny is how Serbs and Croats claim that Bosniaks are really one of them, that they are actually members of their people, and yet they do not treat them in any way as brothers or 'co-ethnics'. Instead, the attitude is: "You are one of us, but we hate you anyway!" And why do they hate them anyway? Because they view Muslim Bosniaks as the descendents of Serb Orthodox or Catholic Croat traitors who converted to Islam during Ottoman times!

But since it has often been postulated by Croats that Croatian and Bosnian Serbs are a actually mixture of "Vlachs and Gypsies", and due to the prejudices that a lot of people still hold about people like the Roma of Europe, the attitude behind such an alternative origin for Croatian and Bosnian Serbs is: "Your identity is false; you are actually one of them, which makes you a low breed of people!"

And yet how can historians and lay people alike on either side lay such over-riding, all-encompassaing claims with absolute certainty that all - or even the majority - of the ancestors of modern-day nations definitely identified themselves one way or the other?

Our ancestry is made up of a variety of different people from whom we came; our ancestors themselves lived very different lives to our own. And yet it's thanks to them that we are here wherever we are! However, if we could speak to our more distant ancestors about a number of issues that affected them then and affects us now, we will very likely by shocked and surprised by what they would say!

Nevertheless, such attitudes mentioned above are part and parcel of a debate regarding people's national identities. And since these wars have brought so much hatred between these people, many people in the Balkans like to believe that they are "100%" something, be it "100% Serbian" or "100% Croatian", et al., and don't want to be anything else!

This is the nationalistic view of "ethnic purity", that one person's national identity in which they've been raised is their only identity, and any suggestion that they may be little bit something else - or that they're not at all what they think they are - is considered a personal and national insult! This is very similar to notions of "racial purity" noticed in other parts of the world.

And yet so many people from the former Yugoslavia were born into mixed marriages. I personally have so many cousins, 1st cousins, 2nd cousins, and 1st once removed, whose ancestries are made up of people from many different ethnic groups. There are so many of them on both my father's and mother's side, that there are more than I can count with ten fingers!

Ultimately, the whole idea of "ethnic purity", that many nationalists believe in and uphold, becomes evidently ridiculous when analysing recent results obtained in human genetic research! Better still, such nationalists should examine their own family histories and review their personal genealogies!

Insistence that only one's view is correct, and others are therefore not

As I explained above, people from all the warring sides in Bosnia, Croatia and from other conflicts around the Balkans relate distant times of history to their own time, in whatever way relevant and appropriate to the foundations of their modern-day identities. And since people from all ethnic groups from the Balkans in equal measure feel so strongly for their people, their homelands, and their people's suffering in the past, it's no wonder that each ethnic group holds to their nation's view of history as being the only true one, and are thus suspiscious of other ethnic groups' interpretations of history and beliefs thereof.

Nevertheless, I do ask myself, "Surely these people can realise that history, specifically the actual daily reality as experienced by their ancestors, is in no way near as mono-faceted as is propagated by national historians at various universties, or more worryingly, by the national media of those countries?"

It is my opinion that it is precisely this kind of attitude amongst people, historians and politicians alike, that only one's own nation's view of history is correct, and thus other views held by other nations is flat-out wrong, that actually leads to 'historic revisionism' with regards to various events in history, and in turn outright denial of war crimes and other episodes of suffering endured by other nations in the recent or distant past.

For instance, if we look at how Serbs and Croats deal with each others' claims of victimhood, we would see how people from both nations speak of themselves as victims by people from the other nation, while questioning the authenticity of the other nation's allegations of suffering perpetrated by them, all the while resentful of the other side's insistent claims of victimhood!

Serbs mourn the loss of their loved ones, both civilian and military, in the recent war in Croatia in the 90s, and also lament the loss of their hometowns, villages, properties and communities. They believe that the Croatian government of Franjo Tuđman wanted to throw their people out of their country and succeeded in doing so with 'Operation Oluja' at the end of the war, accusing them of a number of war cimes during the war as well. However, they are rather annoyed by the Croatian media's constantly repeated stories of war crimes committed by members of their people on theirs, and believe that more should be mentioned about war crimes committed by Croats on Serbs in order to show that both sides committed war crimes against each other.

Croats likewise mourn and commemorate their fallen soldiers and lost loved ones during the same war, which they call the 'Homeland war' or Domovinski rat. For them, the Krajina Serbs were led by Hague convicts Milan Martić and Milan Babić, who led them into a war against the newly independent Croatian state and the Croatian people, committing horrendous crimes against them. They are quite inclined to doubt anything the Serbs claim their people did to them during the recent war, and this doubt can be applied to the Second World War, which includes minimising the numbers and gravity of the atrocities committed by the Ustaše upon Serbs throughout Croatia and Bosnia and the genocide committed at the Jasenovac concentration camp in the 'Independent State of Croatia' or Nezavisna Država Hrvatska (NDH).

Unfortunately, such views of history, whether recent or ancient, and particularly the attitudes towards which, influence the political opinions of entire populations and affect inter-ethnic relations, casting an enormous shadow over everyone and everything. But more frighteningly, they can guide extreme nationalist politicians, who, if they get elected into government by the public in their country/ies, can form official state policies, in the name of their people(s) and state(s), to achieve certain political objectives in today's world!

Of course, most politicians in the governments of former Yugoslav republics today are not that extreme any more, and are fortunately much more inclined to be critical in their thinking. But that extreme scenario is exactly what happened in at least three republics of the Former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, and such opinions can still influence political discourse from time-to-time even today!

And so, I end this long, drawn-out article with something that offends me: as far as I'm concerned, that we the people of the former Yugoslavia no longer have a country that can represent all of us like Yugoslavia could, is by far the BIGGEST insult of all!

Thursday, 24 September 2009


On the Tuesday evening news on the RTS SAT channel that we managed to retrieve on our satellite recently, I was deeply shaken by what I heard Croatian businessman Željko Kerum said about my people.

I recently heard a good deal about this man. Željko Kerum is the founder of his own supermarket chain that bears his name throughout Croatia called KERUM. He is also the mayor of the Dalmatian city of Split. And having been in Gračac recently, I was quite proud to have a KERUM supermarket on my own street opposite the post office there. It's on a very busy location traffic-wise, and as such is very practical. And of course, I liked that supermarket because lots of people go there everyday and the women who work there are also very helpful! ;-)

Anyway, he was interviewed by popular Croatian TV host Aleksandar Stanković on Nedjeljom u 2 ("Sunday at two"), a program on HRT, the Croatian national TV and Radio channel.

Regarding Serbian businessmen like Miroslav Mišković intending to invest in Croatia, Stanković asks him, "Can Serbs purchase market chains in the Croatian market?", to which he replied, "As far as I'm concerned, I wouldn't allow [it]."

(But I wonder why he needed to ask him that. Isn't it just an accepted norm in business and finance that it's not important who your ancestors were but whether you can do the job right?)

When pushed to offer a reason, he explains, "Because Serbs have never brought us any good, therefore they won't even now! Not only them, but also Montenegrins and Serbs. And whoever [deals] with them, afterwards, they won't pass well".

Then, when asked would he agree to a Serb being his son-in-law, he answered, "No way. There's no chance. There never was, nor will there be … in my family."

Now, not only has he revealed that he harbours prejudiced views about Serbs, but when the host asks him, "then why did you bother to help many Serbs (in Split) if they're [such bad people]?", only then does he realise that, "Good and bad people exist", and that about himself, "I'm a good person, and those people I helped are good people"! Nevertheless, "Everyone should know where his place is". How enlightening!

What an embarrassment for the people of Split, if only all of them realised it.


Željko Kerum did issue a written apology following this incident. In it he says, "Exclusively, because of my unresourcefulness in that type of provocative discussion, I said words that I regret and because of which, I ended up looking like something I never was - a racist, nationally intolerant and exclusive".

But in his apology above, he actually contradicts what he said in the interview. Asked why he wouldn't like Serbs in his family, he replies, "Because that's how we're raised!" See what I mean?

But something else also surprised me. It looks like Kerum won't face any legal action against him over this.

Zagreb's Municipal State Attorney's Office, after reviewing the recording of the mayor of Split Zeljko Kerum's appearance on HTV's show "Nedjeljom u dva", and given his statement (referring to the apology), confirmed that there is no basis for action as Kerum's statements are not characteristic of the crime of racial and other discrimination or other criminal acts which are prosecuted ex officio, stated the State Attorney's Office today.

The attorney maintains that there is no basis for further action, because his statements and answers were obviously not conveyed with the aim of propagating national hatred, or with the aim to influence the will, intellect, emotions and passions of viewers.(See here in Croatian)

What?! Not racist?! Are they joking??!!

Kerum would never be allowed to get away with such comments here in the UK.

Let's say a Protestant politician from Northern Ireland who holds a ministerial position, i.e. an official job working for the local or national government, said something similar about Irish Catholics. Afterall, there was a conflict there not so long ago that lasted much longer than any recent conflict in the Balkans. Of course, both Protestants and Catholics lost loved ones in "the Troubles", as they call the decades-long conflict there. But if this hypothetical Protestant politician stated that Catholics there never brought any good to Ulster, and that he would never accept a Catholic marrying one of his daughters, what do you think would happen to him in response to such remarks?

He would be forced out of his job! Simple as! There is no justification for such comments, regardless of the history of the region or people's actual experiences from that period.

And just so we're clear, there would make no difference if it was the other way round, if the shoe was on the other foot. Let's say it was a Catholic politician who said that Protestants never brought any good to Ireland and that he wouldn't want his daughter marrying one of them. He would lose his job likewise. And of course, in both hypothetical situations, both incidents would cause a scandal each nation-wide!

By conveying such discomforting opinions like that in the public domain, you are tarring people with the same brush, or as we say where I come from, "trpaš sve ljude u isti koš". Saying how this nation and that nation is like this and that, because its members at some point in the past did this and that to another, is unpleasant and hurtful to the members of such targeted communities. And of course, it creates a bad image for the person saying such things.

I can understand why people who have been affected by wars harbour such feelings of hatred and resentment for people from other tribes, ethnic groups, regions or countries. But if you are in a position of high authority, with which you represent all the citizens of your town/city/county/district or wherever, like Kerum is for Split, you have to be very careful with what you say, and even more careful how you think about things before you respond to whatever comes your way!


Business is supposed to be the means by which a variety of people come together to do trade with each other. Of course, many people the world over would rather talk about business than politics! And yet, this very successful entrepreneur and mayor of a city has such disappointingly prejudiced views about the nation to which many people he himself has done business with belong to. And of course, many Serbs live in Split too and many of them probably voted for him to be their mayor! How must they feel this week?

And NO! No-one should use history, whether recent or ancient, to justify such unpleasant statements, especially in a country that is trying to move forward and away from war-time politics and ethnocentric belligerence.

And yet it's shocking and bemusing that he could even think that Serbs have never brought any good to Croatia. He must have forgotten about Nikola Tesla, who invented the very current through which his microphone worked on that programme, into which he could air such vile and nonsense about his people!

And therefore, I end this article thus:


Excerpt of the interview with the inflammatory comments:

External Links
From (in Croatian):

From B92 (in English):

Friday, 11 September 2009

Is my blog nationalist? Should I change its name?

Can anybody who looks at my blog really say that my blog in any way supports nationalism, let alone advocates a particular form of nationalism?

I, Alan Jakšić, have edited this blog for just over two years now. I have explained many times that I am a Croatian Serb who lives in the UK who has left-wing liberal tendencies - and such inclinations I have shown in my writing on countless blog posts - and I wish to use my blog to talk my people, the Serbian minority of Croatia, especially about our lives, our history, our culture and our present situation in our homeland; and I also want to write about Diaspora Serbs, like myself, where we are in the world, what we're doing with our lives, etc.

However, it has come to my attention that one of my relatives thinks I advocate on my blog a "pro-nationalist opinion". That was the biggest insult I could ever receive. It's like, because I'm a Serb and I write about Serbs, my blog must be nationalist, and therefore, I must be inclined towards nationalism in some way myself! Imagine how much of a blow it is to receive such an ignorant comment like that, and worst of all, from one's own close relative.

That is worse than judging a book by its cover; that's misreading its cover altogether!

And to another issue: should I change the name of my blog?

Why do I ask that? Well, the problem is, just like with the misunderstanding related above, calling myself an Anarchist might give people a sense of uncertainty about me and what I might be! Because a lot of people don't really know what Anarchist ideology is actually about, they often wonder why I gave my own blog such a name in the first place.

So just like openly calling myself a Serb might arouse suspiscion in other people, I suppose calling myself an Anarchist might make me look like even more of an odd person!

So my two questions to anyone who visits my blog are as follows:

1. Is my blog a nationalist blog, that advocates nationalism because I'm a Serb?


2. Should I change the name of my blog from "Balkan Anarchist" into "Alan Jakšić" perhaps?

Please, please, please, write down your comments under this post! I don't usually do this kind of thing, but because I'm doing this now, I really really need to know what you think about my blog and what you think I should do about the name of it. Thank you!

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Segregation in Bosnia's schools, a strange but sad story

Recently, I came across an article on the Traverse City Record-Eagle website regarding the segregation of children based on ethnicity in schools throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. (Click here to read it)

Now, I have heard about this situation before, as I remember when the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles actually opened a new school for Bosniak and Croat children in Mostar. And I remember it being mentioned that those children will be taught in same school but not in the same classrooms, which disappointed me. But I never realised how bad it really is!

Consider this school in the town of Stolac in the south of the country:

It's shortly after noon, and teenagers who were taught their capital is Zagreb, in neighboring Croatia, are streaming out of Stolac High School. In an hour, their classrooms will be filled with children who have learned that their capital is Sarajevo, Bosnia.

Fourteen years after Bosnia's 1992-95 war, youngsters from Muslim Bosniak and Roman Catholic Croat families attend the same schools, but are separated from each other and learn from different textbooks.


The Stolac school is an example of Bosnia's postwar emphasis on "two schools under one roof." (My Emphasis in bold)

Same school, different textbooks; two schools under one roof. For a moment, I thought of China's and Hong Kong's 'one country - two systems' system of governance. But then I remembered that the people of China and Hong Kong are not the ones whose children are subjected to such degrading and disgraceful segregation in their schools, let alone do they face other serious post-war problems as the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina do!

Carrying on with the article:

With the Bosnian Serbs already holed up in their own part of the country, critics say the Balkan nation's school system is one of the worst examples of segregation in Europe -- one that's producing a generation ripe for manipulation by nationalists.

Tiny Bosnia is home to just 3.5 million people, yet its schools are governed by 14 ministries (!!!), many run by people who favor segregation. Vedran Zubic, a high school teacher in the capital, Sarajevo, sees the separation as a continuation of wartime nationalist rhetoric.

"We have a generation of young, intolerant, ethnically isolated and ethnically overfed pupils who are being used as weapons of nationalist politicians," he said. (My Emphasis in bold, exclamation marks and larger font size)

WTF??!! 14 ministries of education in one country of less than four million?!

And yet the worst thing for Bosnia's future is precisely that this state of a affairs, as far as education in the country is concerned, is producing a generation of "young, intolerant, ethnically isolated and ethnically overfed pupils", who are as such "ripe for manipulation by nationalists", and thus "[usable] as weapons of nationalist politicians". And not surprisingly, this strange and shameful situation is desirable by many in the war-torn country, seeing as this is a "continuation of wartime nationalist rhetoric", as noticed by the respectable Mr. Zubić mentioned above!


However, it is very easy for me and other people who live outside of Bosnia to criticise and abhor such an education system, spewing my disdain for it on a blog I maintain on a computer two thousand miles from the country!

The sad truth is that this system of segregation in Bosnia's schools was instated by the OSCE (the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) to meet the educational needs of children of families returning to their hometowns and villages, from whence they were expelled during the war. In fact, schools in many places in Bosnia have followed the example set in Stolac.

But let me explain this situation in simple terms for those who haven't lived through inter-ethnic conflict, nor have any close relatives affected by such wars. In the Stolac example above, the Muslim Bosniak families returned to their hometown from which they were thrown out of by Bosnian Croats. They want their children to go to school there, obviously, but they don't want them to learn from textbooks filled with the pro-Croat literature that they find offensive, and they don't want them to be taught to look at neighbouring Croatia as their 'domovina' ("homeland").

It's the same situation throughout Bosnia for members of other ethnic groups: Bosnian Serbs or Croats that return to towns and villages from which they were expelled either by Bosnian Croats, Muslims or Serbs, don't want their children to be exposed to the nationalist rhetoric that they dispise of the ethnic group whose members persecuted and humiliated them during a war that destroyed their lives and even took away their loved ones.

Therefore, Bosnian Serb, Croat and Muslim/Bosniak children only learn about their own people's culture and history (according to their nation's historians), and virtually nothing about the culture(s) and history/ies of their closest neighbours.

Not only do they learn conflicting views of history and military conflicts therein, they are also taught that they are separate peoples typically with a history of victimhood listing their neighbours' numerous transgressions against them; they are also taught to believe that their ethnic groups have very unique cultures, which practically means that they have completely separate cultures from each other; and to top it all off, they are even taught to think that they speak separate languages from one another!

This kind of education system is akin to brainwashing! But it is the kind of education system created for a divided and deeply traumatised population scarred by a war that destroyed the sense of common identity they used to have before.

Unfortunately for Bosnian society, this creates "three sets of citizens who do not know anything about the others, have no intercultural skills", who also lack "critical thinking skills" necessary to avoid future outbreaks of war.

Read the full Record-Eagle article here: Segregation lives in Bosnian schools - Country's ethnic divisions are evident, Dated 25th August 2009.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Druže Tito, mi ti se kunemo!

I dedicate this blog post to a man who has long been a legend to so many people across the Former Yugoslavia. A figure of stability, an icon for millions, the life-long leader of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Socijalistička Federativna Republika Jugoslavija).

This man was a hero to my parents' generation for two main reasons: one, he was a war hero who liberated the entire territory of the earlier Kingdom of Yugoslavia by ridding it of evil Fascist forces and neutralising other collaborating groups, and he even extended that territory ever so slightly to form the borders of his Yugoslavia and form the internal boundaries of its constituent republics; and two, as one of five founding fathers of the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War, he opened doors to the whole world for his people, and was welcomed by so many leaders to their countries all over the world.

During his leadership, modernity was brought to every corner of his former great Balkan state. Villages in mountainous backwater regions that were still living in the nineteenth or eighteenth century finally saw and welcomed in the twentieth century. And unlike other communist countries that were under the "Iron Curtain", Soviet "satellite states" like Poland and Hungary, Communist Yugoslavia was a much freer society that eased restrictions on religious expression and freedom of speech, and even allowed private enterprise to function from the sixties onwards.

He inspired generations of Yugoslavs from the end of the Second World War till his death. And yet, even though that Yugoslavia is now gone thanks to idiots who didn't appreciate his achievements but vainly tried to achieve greater things (!), much of his legacy still lives on and his personality and iconic status continue to remind people of comparatively better times.

This blog post is dedicated to a man who, despite the many disputed methods he used to achieve his goals, and regardless of how meaningful or even valid his equally disputed legacy is today, achieved more success during his lifetime in both war and peace than any of his "successors" have achieved with their petty spoils of his great work and achievements!

And even after so many wars that have destroyed his Yugoslavia, causing so much pain to its people and ruining relations between the various ethnic groups that lived within its borders, his name and persona are still remembered by all these people. And thus, his memory is an unofficial source of inter-ethnic unity!

In terms of his achievements and legacy, this was a man who in one person, in my opinion at least, was the greatest Croat who ever lived; the greatest Slovene who ever drew breath; all in all, the greatest Yugoslav who ever walked the face of this earth!

Of course, this could be none other than Josip Broz Tito, a.k.a. Marshall Tito!

7 May 1892 – 4 May 1980


This is a collection of pictures I found on the internet to add to this page in honour of Tito, a great figure in the history of the Balkan peninsula.

Tito on the front cover of Times Magazine, 1944 Tito on the front cover of Times Magazine, 1955
Not everyone can get a picture of their face on the front cover of TIME Magazine! Franjo Tuđman never had his face on it. Slobodan Milošević was on it, but not in a positive light! So what does that tell you? Hmm…

From left to right, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt; Sukarno of Indonesia, and Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia

Marshall Tito standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow founders of the Non-Aligned Movement, founded as an alliance of states that sought neutrality from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact on the one hand, and the West and NATO on the other.

These days, following enormous changes in world politics, this same Non-Aligned Movement no longer holds the same global significance it did for over forty years. But the fact that Marshall Tito was part of the establishment of such a grand alliance of worldwide proportions speaks volumes about this revolutionary man, and casts a massive shadow over his "successors", however successful or unsuccessful they really were!

Tito's tomb in Kuća Cveća, or House of Flowers

This is his tomb in the Kuća Cveća, or "House of Flowers" in the Belgrade suburb of Dedinje, which has been visited by an estimated 18,000,000 people over the years since his death nearly 30 years ago!

His funeral was attended by well over a million people lining the streets of Belgrade to bid farewell to their decades-long leader, and by over a hundred heads of states from all over the world, communist and capitalist, kings and princes, premiers and presidents.

Now let's see if the graves of his successors will receive even half as many visitors within 15 years of their deaths!

Ulica Maršal Tito, Marshall Tito Street in SkopjeUlica Maršala Tita, Marshall Tito Street in Sarajevo