The biggest events in Serbia during last week were the election and the official act of enthroning of the new Serbian patriarch Irinej. However, my intention was attracted to one, at least in Serbian media, underrepresented although very important news.
On 19 January, “The Union of Russian Writers” awarded Ljiljana Bulatović for her book “Report to the General”. Ljiljana was awarded in the “Slav Fraternity” category with the “Imperial Culture” award for, as it is stated, “her courage, commitment, and unswerving dedication to the cause of the unity of the Orthodox Slav people“. The main character of the book for which Ljiljana has been awarded is Ratko Mladić, the general who is indicted for genocide and currently is being sought by the International Tribunal in The Hague (ICTY).
I was very unpleasantly surprised with that news, more than that, I was furious. Have anyone ever heard that a book about “the most famous” war criminal was reworded?! I have not, not until now! Not about the person who is indicted for killing 8000 Bosniaks in a couple of days! What did they reword? The book or the general’s ability to commit genocide? I wasn’t sure then nor I am now especially because the above mentioned Union of Russian Writers had also reworded with the same award following persons: Ratko Mladić, Radovan Karadžić, Vojislav Šešelj and Slobodan Milošević (correct me if I’m wrong, but among all of them only Šešelj wrote “something”) . So, with this in mind we shouldn’t be surprised…But before I explain reasons of my surprise, I’ll have to say just a few sentences about the author.
The very last time I heard about Ljiljana Bulatović was in the beginning of December 2009, when she publicly complained because her apartment was searched on the order of the Serbian “Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor”. On that occasion, Bulatović said that action was an attempt of intimidation directed against her as a journalist, a writer, and a “transparent fighter for truth and justice for the Serbian people.” However, Bulatović is even more: a member of the Association of Journalists of Serbia (UNS) and the Serbian Writers’ Association, a founder, and a member of the International Committee for the Truth about Radovan Karadzic, president of the Assembly of charitable organizations Defenders of the Fatherland, and an honorary member of the veterans’ organizations of Srebrenica. She also wrote the following books: “The Serbian question” (Coauthor with Aleksa Djilas) in 1991, “The death is theirs craft: Documents of Ustasha terrorism” in 1993, “General Mladic” in 1996, “Radovan” in 2002, “Lament over Kosovo” in 2003, “The true Srebrenica” in 2005, “A halo or a loop for Ratko Mladic” in 2006 etc.
Therefore, bearing all this in mind about the author and about the Union of Russian Writers, I should not be surprised at all. Not with them! My surprise was more connected with the lack of a public reaction in Serbia! I found only one article which characterized this reword and the book as a “mental earthquake”.
Call me unrealistic, but with every shocking news related to Serbia I expect Serbian public to be finally waken up! I really do, but my expectations haven’t yet been fulfilled. Neither journalists nor writers association have not said anything up to now although they should react immediately. I expected these associations to react not just, because the already mentioned author tends to presents herself as a journalist and as a writer but also because both groups, journalists as well as writers, had their share in preparing the atmosphere for the wars and supporting the extreme nationalism. I already wrote about the responsibility of media and journalists for promoting and enabling the war (here) and I will try not to repeat myself this time and to present my arguments in other way. Mechanisms of transitional justice are not enough for establishing normality in post conflict societies previously involved in serious breaches of human rights (Serbia is one of the best examples for that) and certain changes in cultural context and cultural politics are required. Those societies have to re-establish their system of values and responsibility for publicly spoken word! In cases where intellectuals (and so called intellectuals) as well as journalists were involved in “selling the war” to ordinary people, those groups (after the wars) have to do their part of the job – to deconstruct previously abused narratives and help in establishing normality. Otherwise, the already existing narratives and identity forms, which should be changed during the transition, will only be strengthen and left for future abuse. In that case, international and domestic trials of war’s perpetrators will not reach transitional goals. Not in situations where war narrators keep telling their inflammatory stories and the rest of the society stands on the side and watches. Nor in situations where war trials are perceived only as an instrument of gaining EU membership instead as one of the steps in changing society.
The normality will be re-established only when society learn to recognize and react on those potentially explosive “movements”, ideas, thoughts and people who propagate them. Only then those societies will show that they’ve faced their past and learned lessons from it and that they’re now able and willing to prevent bad things from happening again. In order to reach that stance, we have to criticize some books and to emphasize other books (“Scorpions – Design of a crime” “Škorpioni – Dizajn zločina“ author Jasmina Tešanović and movies (for example “Grbavica”) as their counterweight .