In Mr Putin’s mailbox

Everyone could do with a little help from outside, even if they are making arguments about sovereignty. So the intellectuals in Serbia who want support in the ongoing border conflict with Kosovo are seeking it from Russia, and asked for it in a letter to the Russian PM Vladimir Putin. What they want, concretely, is for Russia to propose a resolution in the Security Council on the condition of Serbs of Kosovo.

But the way they argue their case — such a colourful alternative to the measured language of diplomacy! Kosovo is “the occupied portion of the Serbian state”. KFOR is “the camouflaged mission of the NATO phalanx”. Kosovo’s declaration of independence is “the jubilee of the Munich agreement”. Their opponents are “modern usurers, advocates of the new-old Euro-Atlantic order”. Faced with challenges like that, they place their hopes in “Russia, which, in conquering itself found its soul. And the meaning of the traditional philosophy of the Everyman”. Well, how could Mr Putin resist?

Srećom, the letter is not a document coming from Serbia’s foreign ministry or government. As Miloš Vasić explains, those officials appear to be letting the provocateurs do their publicity work while actually moving toward an agreement. So who are the signers, then? Unfortunately they are listed in alphabetical order, so the traditional way of identifying the first signatory as the author will not work here. But we can put it this way: of 21 people who signed, nine identify themselves as coming from the literary world — writers, philologists, literary critics and theorists. Five identify themselves as lawyers. There are three medical doctors, and one each from history, journalism, economics, and mathematics. Five of the 21 sign with the title “akademik”, indicating that they are members of SANU. So basically we are talking about a generation of intellectuals who found their moment of glory in the national hysteria of the 1990s. A few of the names are well known: Smilja Avramov, Vojislav Koštunica, Vasilije Krestić, Kosta Čavoški.

Now, let’s make a wild guess and say that the Russian government is not extremely likely to set its UN delegation into action on receipt of a letter from some novelists who have political connections in a different country and their friends. Nor are governments from the US and EU too likely to jump up and take notice at the fact that they have been described with some intemperate but fascinating phrases. Probably the letter is directed to somebody else. In the first place it is directed to the Serbian government to caution them against negotiating too seriously, and in the second place to the people they call “usurers” (I’m a foreigner, but I had to go to the dictionary for “lihvari” and still have not guessed why it matters whether they are “moderni” — are these terms anybody uses?) to remind them that they have opposition. But it could be that it is directed primarily to the public, to tell them hey, we figures from the past are still around, and hey, somebody takes the idea of a spiritual alliance with Russia seriously.

This sort of thing is easy enough to ridicule, just by pointing out that the signers appear to have found themselves in the wrong century or that they should have at their age learned to distinguish florid phrases from argument. That could be a mistake, though. Do we understand letters like this as being about content or context? If you see the role of the country in the world as forging grand historic alliances and embodying traditional philosophical concepts, there is rhetoric here that could appeal to you. If you see the role of the state as making arrangements to assure a peaceful life for its citizens and a chance to live by human activities like work and exchange, not so much.

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