“The paper that openly says what SPS secretly thinks” must have had a boring time of it when SPS was out of power. The periodic essays where Večernje novosti set out the boundaries of approved thinking were deliciously baroque (and always a bit more SRS than SPS anyway) in the days of Milošević – remember the Uroš Predić painting they passed off in 1994 as a photo documenting an imaginary victim? Classic, in order to be taken in the reader had to be ignorant of a wide variety of topics, from painting and history to real-world events. Later they were reduced to whining about how the bad old days are perceived as bad. Beyond the brief flurry of articles in 2003 advancing theories about how Zoran Djindjić was killed, if not by himself, then at least by anybody other than the people who did it, they really only produced one supershiny fake gem in the post-2000 period. It was a rich one, though: after the release of the Scorpions film in 2005 Željko Vuković’s “Srebrenizacija Srba i Srbije” set out the road map for the shift from denial to metadenial. The long gestation period did wonders, that’s one you can go back to a hundred times and always find something new. But basically they had a long, boring decade, no really programmatic DB-bespoke pieces for long stretches of time.
No more, though! These are the days of the restoration of the old regime and all its tricks. The old criminals, far-right “thinkers”, sponsored thugs and SRS-youthcell politicians are out in force! That dull decade of pretending to a newspaper left a mass of pent-up hatred and resentment just aching for release. Dear Novostarians, your typing hands have been kissed anew by the gods of conspiracy theory, freaky days are here again!
There ain’t no screed like a Novosti screed cause a Novosti screed don’t stop at ordinary distortions of reality. That kind of lying is for amateurs, and it has a short shelf life, too vulnerable to somebody pointing out what conditions in the actually existing world are. Professional quality agitprop – the kind that can claim access to long-term institutional sponsorship – does much more. It postulates an alternate universe where the dimensions are not of time and space but of minders, where relations of cause and effect are suspended by apologetics, where sponsored experts in nonexistent fields parade their advocacy as authority. Come with me for a little journey through the synapses of Novosti, where disputes between human rights groups and neo-fascists appear in ways they appear nowhere else, because they are refracted through the lens of kavurmametaphysics. We have more than a polemic calling human rights advocates foreign agents here; we have an alternate account of a physical and moral universe. A brief overview of its main propositions:
On categories of things: There are two types of groups, “patriots” and “mercenaries”. Of the first type, they identify two, the clerical-fascist groups “1389” and “Naši.” No indication is given of what makes them patriots, though, it’s enough for Novosti to say so. The other kind are “non-governmental organisations with a neoliberal profile,” although the groups that are actually named have nothing to do with liberalism or neoliberalism, but are mainly human rights groups. But they’re already defined in the article’s title as “mercenaries” – and offered as emblematic of the entire nongovernmental sector (most of which is, like the nongovernmental sector everywhere else, nonpolitical). They are also “anti-Serbian traitors,” the article tells us, but this time not on their own authority but on the authority of “Naši.” The only person in the article who is actually associated with a neoliberal NGO (that would be Slobodan Samardžić, director of political studies at the Centre for Liberal-Democratic Studies) is kind enough to let us know that NGOs “are financed by other countries, take initiatives opposed to the interest of the people and the state, act in a totalitarian way and promote mediocrity.”
It is worth offering the whole delightful lesson in linguistic attribution and logic offered by Samardžić together with Slobodan Antonić, co-editor of a far-right online magazine. Antonić begins by telling us that “’organisations should be labeled the way they label themselves – so patriotic, and not right wing. When we call them right-wing, they are automatically disqualified. Then we have to call the other ones mercenaries.’ Slobodan Samardžić says that NGOs use the language of the extreme left, and so when the right wing is mentioned it is like somebody brought up the devil himself. ‘For them the whole right is right-wing.’” This will be on the gymnastics quiz.
On origins and first causes: Which came first, the chicken or the chicken droppings? Here’s how the clerical-fascists – sorry, “patriots” – tell the story. “After 5 October NGOs supported from outside began to dictate a new system of values in many spheres – law, culture ,media […] Everyone who was opposed to their activity was pressured by the state, they were arrested, media labelled them as hooligans and fascists.” As a result there was spontaneous movement in which well known financiers and ideologues played no role at all but rather “young people organised themselves independently and began to form patriotic organisations.” Another clerical-fascist – I meant “patriotic” – group leader attributes the origin of his group to “the great pressure from the Hague Tribunal to arrest and extradite indictees.” So clearly this was spontaneous as well, as no criminals represented institutions or had any engagement with them.
On the authority to offer judgments: Who is telling this fabulous story? Aside from the author of the article, four people. Two of them are heads of the groups who are presented as one of the sides in the confrontation being described, so certainly objective observers. One is a professor of sociology and editor of a far-right online magazine who achieved prominence in 2003 with an essay decrying the “missionary intelligentsia” and advancing exactly the thesis that is advanced by Novosti’s writer. The fourth is an enemy of neoliberal NGOs who is a senior official in a neoliberal NGO and was an advisor to the former prime minister Vojislav Koštunica, whose party he represents as a parliamentary deputy. In addition to these four a few weak words of defence are attributed to the head of one of the NGOs being attacked. It’s hard to say why she wanted to talk to Novosti.
On recursive responsibility: There are clerical-fascists – excuse me, “patriots” – because there are antifascists. Think how peaceful and happy we would all be if there were no antifascists! But never mind, NGOs “had a great influence on the rise of the right in Serbian society,” which developed “as a reaction” to them. Without getting into detail on what the “patriots” and “mercenaries” accuse one another of, the account of origins tells us all we need to know in order to understand violence and threats coming from far-right organisations: these are the fault of the people being attacked, because the attackers are a response. But there is another implicit conclusion hiding behind the binary of a “mercenary” producing its opposite. It is that each of these represent extremes, and that reasonable people will seek out a solution somewhere in between the truth of a thug and the truth of a victim. It’s a thin line between moderation and nihilism, but count on Novosti to walk it for you.
On channelling the current of alternate reality: Such an ugly scene, who is there to support? Well, clearly, the clerical-fascist – I meant “patriotic,” natch – groups, because they are defending us against “aggressive” and “unconstitutional” behaviour. Also, clearly, the political party DSS, which has gone consistently downhill since the time it formed a government with 16% of the popular vote. Why them? Ask their parliamentary deputy/vice president/autonomous intellectual, who explains to us that “DSS when it was in power introduced law and order in many fields, which is not in the interest of the NGOs and therefore our party is the target of their criticism.” But there are others deserving of uncritical praise, of course. There is the minister of justice, who has set out to defend the world against people drinking the wrong brand of mineral water, but who tells the writer in a side interview that “nobody can expect that I will process any case.”
Is there anything surprising here? Not really, it’s from Novosti. This is not just what we expect from Novosti, this is what we secretly want from Novosti. Kurir, Tabloid, Press, Dan, the press services of SPC and SANU, you try, but there is nothing like the real thing. A genuine connoisseur of ultraright agitprop is not going to be satisfied with a plate of reheated supermarket Lasagnski. But does something come close? Kind of, because the text was reproduced and run in full as a news item by the once-independent B92. Isn’t it comfy on the dark side? Keep it up and maybe you can learn to do it well. And then they might really start to like you.