Dejan Ilic
Comment: Drinka Gojkovic i Nenad Dimitrijevic

The editorial is a pretty rigid and thus perhaps a futile genre: the texts which follow are naturally of much greater importance than the editorial itself. As well as the conventional expectations imposed by the genre itself, the circumstances of this editorial also demand an explanation of why Rec is being published now when everything has gone to hell, or at least is well on the way. As Rec is a literary magazine we might also ask who needs a magazine for literature and culture today. When there is no electricity or water in this half-demolished country is a literary magazine really what people need? It seems, however, that no particular reply is needed to questions such as these. The answer is obvious and is implicit in the way the questions are formulated.

And yet: here's Rec again. The new Rec will not, however, be "a magazine for literature and culture", at least not in the way it was until recently. Thus the last two questions have lost heir meaning and the answers implied by them are no longer important. But new questions emerge. Why still under the title Rec, if this new magazine is not dedicated to literature and culture?

To put it simply, in order to have literature in an environment, that environment should represent some kind of stable milieu for writing and reading. Even a short story is usually written within several days. If somebody begins writing a story, he should also finish it, so that what he has begun becomes a story, for it to have meaning as a story at all. If writing a story takes several days, it is logical to assume that the writer should be able to write it during those several days. So a stable milieu is needed in that sense: to know that tomorrow, as today, one would be able to write in that environment. Nothing more.

The same, or nearly the same, applies to reading.

And as for reading, if we carry this argument through, so for life itself. In other words, is there any meaning in life if there is a possibility that the next day will be the last. But let's not go that far.

It is clear that writing and reading in Yugoslavia today are pushed to the brink of meaninglessness, if for no other reason that that nobody can be sure that he can finish tomorrow what he starts today. Thus a literary magazine is left with no option but to publish texts in spite of this meaninglessness and which discuss this meaninglessness. However, we may ask, and with good reason, isn't this the whole purpose of literature at all times and under all circumstances?

Can we speak with certainty about any "meaning" of literature, or is such meaning accidental, like everything else? For writing, the meaning is in the very act of writing (or addressing, of course, but writing is already addressing: he who writes can address someone who will, somewhere else, in a hundred years, be able to read what has been written and thus provide the final meaning), for reading - in the act of reading. The next day, as things go, doesn't make any difference here. Ingarden calls this an "aesthetic experience" - we are immersed in what he calls the aesthetic, we forget the outside world. So literature ALWAYS has meaning, regardless of the outside, but is always connected to it, whether it helps to forget about it or to gain meaning from it. This is the reason that the question "what is the use of poets in hard times" seems to have only a positive reply, no matter how that reply is formulated and however "poets" are defined.

Literary journals and magazines published in the former Yugoslavia used to be subtitled "the journal or magazine for literature, culture and social issues". Those who had the opportunity to read the texts published in these papers and magazines and who also knew something about that other Yugoslavia knew what this addition - social issues - meant. Even without calling on contemporary French thinkers it was obvious that this was not merely an appendix, but a qualification reaching to the very heart of the matter.

When you think about it, it seems that this new Rec, although for five years it had stubbornly refused to add social issues to its subtitle, would deal with those social issues after all, more than with literature. it also seems that social issues and meaninglessness in this context stand as synonyms, as such their positions in sentences are interchangeable. And so here we are - in the middle of the meaninglessness of social issues.

What can I say about the issue of social issues being more important than literature other than that they precede it. Otherwise, strictly speaking in terms of value, they're not (literature having greater value than some political machinations of course). But the aspect of value is here subordinated to the a priori value or the importance of the pragmatic.

I don't think that social issues are meaningless. We need an explanation here of what is considered meaningful and what meaningless. From the point of view of the inevitability of death, everything is meaningless and perfectly meaningful because it represents experience as opposed to the absence of experience. Social issues are unavoidable - how we live, how we could live, how to organise that, and this is why I wouldn't call them meaningless. Besides, as you know, I think that the Balkans, or that part which has put the Balkans in the focus again, meaning us, Serbia, Yugoslavia, have had better and worse moments: not all the social pragmatics here have always been absurd.

The Kosovo Issue

It doesn't take too much wisdom to come to the conclusion that the Serb regime of the last ten years hasn't done a thing to solve the issue of Kosovo. On the contrary, there are a lot of examples showing that the Serb regime has consistently neglected or conscientiously destroyed everything that Kosovo actually or symbolically represented in Serbian history and culture and it's clear that the solution of the Kosovo issue itself was not important to the regime either. The Serbian regime has used Kosovo only as an effective tool of rhetoric: putting the focus on Kosovo served only to marginalise or completely block any attempts to discuss many questions about the lethal results of the ten-year rule of the Socialist Party and its leader. One of these questions is certainly the fact that, during their rule, the existence of all the democratic institutions in Serbia has become senseless.

On the other hand it seems that Albanians are citing the very basic democratic principles which are so painfully absent from Serbia's political life when they offer certain solutions for the Kosovo problem. On that other of the two apparently different and actually opposed sides, the say that the current or present state must be taken into consideration before everything else. History is less important. The problem of Kosovo will be solved when the freely expressed will of the majority of the citizens of Kosovo is accepted and put into law with respect to what kind of (not important) and which (important) country they want to live in. This is roughly, in its democratic form, the argument for the status quo. This would be the so-called democratic solution relieved of the burden of history, everything which precedes the moment of free expression of the will of the citizens of Kosovo.

However the democratic illusion of such a proposition conceals a whole series of contradictions. For example, if Kosovo, as Western politicians and diplomats still persist in claiming, is part of Serbia, why would its status be solely decided by the expressed will of the citizens of Kosovo? And if Kosovo is no longer part of Serbia, every other subsequent pronouncement on the status of Kosovo becomes simply meaningless.

As well as only seeming democratic, the proposed solution is questionable because its specious logic is based on the argument of the status quo. What is the argument of the status quo? If I kill a man, that man no longer exists and, according to the status quo, I could not have killed him in the first place. Thus I have nothing for which to be responsible. And the body? The body only proves that the present state is different from that which preceded it. And nothing else, if we stick to the logic of the argument of the status quo.

And more: it could now be proposed, or even demanded, that the bombing stop and the current citizens of Kosovo be given an opportunity to say in which (important) and what kind of (again, obviously, not important) country they want to live. Since the majority of the population in Kosovo are now Serbs it is not difficult, as in the two previous cases, to guess the result. This solution cannot much be contradicted from the perspective of the logic of the status quo. Despite, as we've seen, the bodies.

Even the bombing is completely justified if the same logic is applied. At the very moment when the bombing brings about a situation in which there is no extant Yugoslavia, nor any of its population, there would no longer be any problem of Kosovo. What bodies?

It seems that all three apparently opposed sides are pursuing the same logic of the status quo and justifying their acts only in that way. In other words, in the name of that logic, the first beats the second and the second beats the third ruthlessly.

Another logic, significantly different from the last, says that what preceded the current situation should be taken into consideration after all. The question is how far back should we go: six months, a year, ten years, fifty years, a hundred or six hundred years? Maybe even further? Of course each of the sides in the conflict would put the end point at the previous state which would best suit them in the present.

Kosovo - how to solve the problem, sticking with the status quo or digging up the past? The question is what we define as the problem. Is it the territory of Kosovo belonging to Serbia? Or the fact that large numbers of people are dying there? To tell you the truth, I was hard hit by the news of the murder of Agani. Imagine yourself in that position: you are being told day after day that someone important has been killed, someone else important and so on, and in between many others we regard as unimportant. I met a man here, a Kosovo Albanian who wrote to me: "My father grew up with Agani in Djakovica; Agani's eldest son is my brother's best friend, his youngest son is my best friend here in Cleveland." How would we feel seeing Serbs crossing some border, where their documents are being destroyed, to go - where? It is difficult to imagine where. (And we actually know, given the experience of people from Krajina.) In my opinion only Father Sava, speaking on Studio B, has put this correctly: "We say that Kosovo is our sacred land. But it is a sacred land for Albanians, too." And, sacred or not, it is their only real home. Just as you and I have lived all our lives in Belgrade and are out of our minds because Belgrade is now being bombed, thus they have lived in those blazing villages, villages that were in flames before Nato. Nato has made a rich contribution to all that, but this is another story. I think that, when it comes to the Kosovo issue, the main thing is to have complete openness of argument - everything is possible: secession, no secession, semi-secession; the only question is what are the arguments and how valid are they, and how much misery can certain solutions create for others, on the spot and in the region.

I agree that the "argument of the status quo" is bad. You don't need to look further than Dayton to realise that.

As far as the relationship between democracy and history goes, the "argument of the status quo" doesn't necessarily arise from the premise that history is less important. What is the point? If we want democracy as a political arrangement which would be acceptable to all people and all groups in Serbia, then we must not forget that history cannot be politically conceptualised into some kind of, let's say, democratic alternative. That is to say that history cannot be conceptualised in any way as a political arrangement. The issue of history and the past becomes important if we say that, without a certain cultural reflection, no democratic political arrangement would be accepted. But, if we remove the historical issue from the political discourse, it in no way means that "the legitimisation of the freely expressed will of the majority" remains the only alternative. The first question in the process of establishing democracy where there was no democracy before is a question of standards, a question about the criteria for justice. After that struggle for political autonomy, special minority rights and so on may resume procedurally, institutionally. Drinka Gojkovic has posed the question well: what is the primary issue? The primary issue is how to stop the killing and then comes the question of what can be done so that the killing is not to repeat, in other words how to overcome the logic of hatred? Only then does the issue of democracy take the stage.

The Issue of Guilt

Is the Serbian side ready to accept collective responsibility? This question has been clearly formulated and awaits an answer. What, they ask, were I - and the people with whose opinions on certain political issues I agree, the people who were and are openly against the current Serbian regime and against the implementation of the officially proclaimed Serb national interests - doing while Vukovar and Sarajevo were being bombed? And what have we done for the Albanians in Kosovo? And then I ask myself: and what should we have done? What have the Albanians from Kosovo done for us? And what have we each been doing to harm the other.

They ask if we accept the guilt, not personally but collectively, as a people. In this way they force us too, just like these here, to be a people, to feel like a people, to act as members of the people and in the name of the people. Very well, let me become the nation, for the sake of the argument, although a neighbour long ago denied me that right, saying that there is no way I can be a Serb. And he even apologised, politely, for having had to tell me that. And because he had inadvertently offended me. My neighbour had obviously thought - until recently, when they took his son away to the army - that it was a great fortune and honour to be a Serb. But let me not lose myself with this story about my neighbour.

So how could "we", Serbs, be guilty? In order for someone to be guilty they must have previously done something for which he should be blamed. (This question thus obviously lies outside the logic of the status quo). He must have done it by his own free will, which means that it had been possible for him not to have done it. In other words, guilt includes the possibility of free choice.

Now did "we", Serbs, in the last ten, or fifty, years, have a choice of what we would be, where we would be, with whom we would be and who would represent us? If I say we did not have a choice, am I shifting all the responsibility to the previous, as well as the current, Serb regime and thus actually attributing to "us" Serbs the classical romantic role of "unprotected innocent"? And if I say we did, then does what is happening now come as something like a deserved punishment, the fulfilment of cosmic justice? Or is it that we have perhaps made the right choices and acted only correctly in accordance with that choice, but that those who judge our choice lack any elementary feeling or sense of justice?

I think that one has to have a clearer, sharper stance on Kosovo. Or at least a sharper focus on the problem. Dejan, we are as guilty as sin there, that is beyond debate. This - from our point of view - must always be kept in mind. Never mind history now, and who did what to whom and when. During the Balkan Wars, Trotsky wrote that Serbs were mowing down Albanians like grain and the Serb nation was watching in silence - we don't know anything about that, at least I didn't know about it until recently. This is something I simply MUST know now. Serb students were carrying placards saying "Don't give them pens" a year and a half ago. The Serb police and army were burning villages there before Nato, that is the reality. That is not the ONLY reality, but it doesn't make it any less significant. We have to have a twofold perspective, we have to learn to see the misfortune of others and that it is a misfortune you don't have to emphasise separately. The fact that the Serbs, too, are now suffering is not an excuse.

Guilt - that's a tough topic. It shouldn't be asked just as: is there collective guilt? There is not, of course, but what of it? The Serb army has done its share of killing around the place after all, and we know nothing about it.

Let me repeat, this thing is devilishly complex. I have written about it several times and every time I have been sure that the problem was not whether "we" were guilty or not. We are, and here I completely agree with Drinka Gojkovic again. But this "we" is not a collective definition. This is one aspect of the problem and the other is that nobody but us could open a discourse on guilt for all these wars and this bloodshed in the past decade. I want to say that if somebody from outside says "Serbs are guilty", it is morally unacceptable, simply because it strips us of all individual subjectivity. But, on the other hand, each and every one of us must see his own "guilt", if only because people have been killed in our name. Strictly speaking, this is not about guilt but about the readiness and necessity to accept the responsibility for what we, who as individuals were always against hate and killing, are certainly not guilty of. This brings us back to the previous question which is whether it is possible to step forward into the future without "coming to terms with the sinister past". The answer is probably that it is not.

The Issue of Discourse

It is quite certain that Serb responsibility cannot be discussed in the rigid categories of absolute guilt and absolute innocence, but do "we" speak about it in any categories at all? And really, what would be the adequate framework for initiating a discussion on the issue of collective guilt? And are there frameworks in which this issue would lose its importance? Because a discourse within which collective guilt grows in significance is perhaps not appropriate in this situation. It should be a discourse which would serve as an explanation for events which happened fifty years ago and more. It is interesting, however, that with this discourse, all sides are attempting to justify exactly what they are doing today. Disregard the fact that this could be a good indication of how much the experience of World War II is still alive, not only on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, but throughout the whole Western world. This is another issue: that experience is a good foundation for understanding present events. What does it mean when Albanians accuse Serbs of fascism while at the same time "official Serbia" calls the president of the United States of America, in pejorative terms of course, a Hitler, and while that president's officials demand that Serbs admit their guilt as the Germans did after World War II. (And are we to expect, according to this scenario, that after the Nato intervention Yugoslavia will be levelled to the ground as Germany was after the Allies conquered it and that the Yugoslav president will take his own life in one of Belgrade's underground shelters?)

If we are to draw conclusions based on the dominant discourse on all three sides, it seems that nothing has changed significantly in the past fifty years. (And perhaps not just during the past fifty years but for a whole two centuries past. it seems as though the discourse in these two hundred years has not offered the citizens of Western civilisation any pattern for the formation of identity other than a national one.) Only the technology, particularly the military technology, has advanced. Thus we even have "smart" ammunition. And if the ammunition is smart then maybe we don't need any kind of discourse any more. Or maybe, as some contemporary thinkers constantly reiterate, validity, suitability and applicability of discourse have always lain in the "smartness" of the ammunition, or arms, of force. If we take this perspective, then one Belgrade graffiti write, an insightful Croatian theorist and the "only" brilliant journalist are right when they claim there is no substantial difference between the Yugoslav and American presidents, because both believe in the "smart" argument of pure force. And this is why the same discourse suits both sides (and, to judge by the behaviour of the Kosovo Liberation Army and the statements of their representatives, there is not much difference on the third side either).

Can we not propose, open up, imagine, employ some other discourse, some discourse different from this?