When you say “newspaper,” you think “cloak and dagger”: Politika’s baffling palace coup(s)

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 17.05.03Everyone will tell you, Politika is the oldest newspaper in the Balkans. They say it is influential too, but this is probably an exaggeration. Of the remaining people who actually read newspapers, more seem to prefer the lurid tabloids chock full of conspiracy theories (Politika does okay on that count) and assorted body parts of people who are recognisable from television. So what is the grey mass good for? Well, like “newspapers of record” in other countries, it is a place where editors perform the boundaries of what officials think people ought to know about, where respectable-seeming people give a pretty gloss to whatever line of thinking is dominant at the moment, and where folks who want to cement their wobbly positions in some future elite display their fetishes. It also has a surprisingly good –literate, diverse and comprehensive – arts and culture section on the weekends. Ah yes, and its weather predictions and death notices are impressively accurate.

Politika’s editor, Ljiljana Smajlović, has developed a habit of entering and leaving that job in strict covariance with the strength of her political connections. Last week she caused a minor subset of exquisitely tweezed eyebrows to raise when she announced her resignation. Her obliquely worded letter informed readers that:

My resignation is a protest against a management that prevents the editor in chief to independently direct the journalists

and suggestively notes that:

…real editorial freedom does not exist in those places where the editors have been completely disempowered and the management acts without control.

There is nothing in the text, or in the ones that followed, that specified how she was prevented from independently editing the paper or where those places are where the management acts without control (or, more importantly, who this “management” is). So nobody will be surprised that the decision was followed by a lot of speculation. A bit about the speculation below, but there is something more fascinating.

As soon as the editor announced her resignation – as a part of the same article, in fact – the paper, which she continues to edit, began a campaign with the goal of persuading her to change her mind or for the resignation not to be accepted. Early on in the campaign, it was joined by the Association of Journalists of Serbia (UNS). This wholly independent organisation offering its support to Ljiljana Smajlović is headed by Ljiljana Smajlović. It competes for authority with the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS).

Today is, as those of you follow calendars will already know, Sunday. This is the day when newspapers put out larger editions that stress their chosen themes for the week, and Politika is of course no exception. The lead story is about high school students choosing to go into trades rather than continuing their education, but the columns on the side tell you all you need to know about the paper’s priorities: two essays of praise for the editor and her stellar character, and sandwiched in between them an interview with the leader of the main ethnic Serb party in Croatia, mostly about EU accession. So who is praising Smajlović now, and what are they saying?

The leading item comes from sometime film director Emir Kusturica, who made exactly two good films (one in 1981 and one in 1985) and then spent the next thirty years marketing predigested stereotypes about the Balkans to an inexplicably delighted French public. Recently he made news by claiming that he is the victim of an endless witch hunt  (fun fact: in the Balkans they hunt witches by hurling massive quantities of public money at them). Today he says in a text that is mostly hyperbolic praise for the editor that Politika is:

Simultaneously in the service of freedom and of the state

adding that:

In difficult moments it is apparent who is a hero and who is an eccentric poltroon and how much a wise editor can in turbulent moments be helpful to our cause. And our cause is founded on the state and on principles, but also on freedom!

So, there you have it. Freedom.

Kusturica’s effort got reinforcement from the curious Željko Cvijanović, a journalist with an interesting/uninteresting past whose main activity has involved trying to make the shift from being Radovan Karadžić’s in-house mouthpiece to securing a similar position in a recognised state. Cvijanović makes an appeal for the state to resume ownership of the paper, which would presumably guarantee that regardless of the character of any government, it would continually maintain its subservient ideological role.

A few other people got into the act. There’s Matija Bećković, a fellow who always wanted to the national poet in the spirit of Constantine Cavafy or Vaso Pashë Shkodrani, but who is notable principally for wearing a funny hat. For good measure and completeness, here are a couple more – one guy who prescribes Politika for the maintenance of psychological health, and one who compares its quality to the other things you can buy at a kiosk (chewing gum?).

What is fascinating about the whole publicity campaign, in which the editor who resigned has for days dedicated large chunks of the front page to people “spontaneously” begging her not to resign, is that no ordinary reader will be able to discern what it is about.

Is it about politics? Who knows, but I will say probably not. Politika has traditionally been a place for people close to state structures and the political right to market their opinions, and is not in the habit of straying from that position much. When it does it is in the direction of more pronounced extremism, and the role of Politika in the 1990s in promoting the rise of Slobodan Milošević and his quasilegal elite, together with ethnic hatred and violence in general, has been thoroughly documented. In that regard Ljiljana Smajlović has continued, with a slightly larger dose of respectability, in the footsteps of her predecessor Dragan (“Electricity”) Antić.

One of the characteristic features of Politika under Smajlović has been a series of feature columns by a rotating cast of writers (none of them are very good, and none of them lasted very long) attacking writers for independent media and a whole set of personalities associated with the long-dormant “Other Serbia,” a loose association of anti-war and anti-regime intellectuals from the 1990s (I wrote about them here a while ago) . The most recent assemblage of texts involved a series trying two present two live historians and one dead philosopher as “autochauvinistic.” In short, there is nothing in the political direction of the paper under its editor that sets it apart from the dominant tone of media in the country, which has nothing that sets it apart from the dominant tone in the 1990s, except that then the offerings were more diverse. Emir Kusturica may think Politika is “critical,” but you could fit the things that Emir Kusturica thinks into a couple of heavily subsidised fake historical sites.

So to the degree that politics is involved, it is not anything that anyone would recognise as substantive politics. This is partly because in an environment where everything is about politics it is equally true that nothing is about politics, and partly because due to the successful work of Politika and similar outlets over the last few decades, there is no substantive political disagreement about anything in the media mainstream.

There may well be another kind of politics involved, however, if we keep in mind that the politics of media is business and that the business of politics is media. As the state council against corruption in Serbia warned several times (twice in 2011, here and here, and once in 2015 here), major media in the country are owned by unknown actors, shell companies, and networks with no mechanisms of accountability. Since the German publisher WAZ decided it wanted out of the domestic marketplace in 2010, it looks as though an assemblage of political entrepreneurs and economic operators have been trading back and forth. This happens in an environment in which the government shows evident favour to a few media outlets whose editors have personal connections in positions of power, and where there is an occasional effort to bring discipline to the rest.

The whole vague business with an editor resigning, engaging a campaign to prevent her own resignation, and assembling a gaggle of dubious figures to intervene is probably best understood outside of the context of substantive politics and inside the context of “deep” politics where lucrative favours are traded. But the promise of understanding does not amount to much after years of assiduous effort to keep the facts unknown.


More fun with conspiracies

file_25112Dear old Luka Mišetić has found za shodno to reply to a post I put up on 23 June. There’s some playing with expressions involving straws, a little bit of recapitulation of the sinister workings of the Djupröven spy conspiracy, and some repetition of used courtroom and media arguments. Hi, Luka!


Today’s dictionary of ideology: “Lawfare”

strategijaSo where do professional goals and practices in international law intersect with efforts to provide legal protection to victims of conflict-related violence? You might think it is a silly question: don’t all practitioners in international law share the goal of providing the protection of international law? The ultraquick answer is no, they do not all have the same orientations, the same sympathies, or the same employers. Some of them want to establish and expand legal protection and some want to limit it.

Since these two groups are fundamentally opposed in terms of what they are trying to achieve, it is not too surprising that they should frequently try to discredit one another. It’s not much of a challenge to discredit projects that have the mission of exempting violence from legal oversight, of course. But what about the other side? Well, what if you were given the opportunity to argue that people interested in protecting civilians while you are fighting are strategic tools of the enemy? The opportunity has been provided, and it traces its origins to the effort of right-wingers to redefine the world after the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York.

Enter one very modern major-general (a brigadier-general actually, but it doesn’t scan). Speaking at Harvard University in the aftermath of the attack in 2001, Charles Dunlap (he was a colonel then), asked:

Is warfare turning into lawfare? In other words, is international law undercutting the ability of the US to conduct effective military interventions? Is it becoming a vehicle to exploit American values in ways that actually increase the risk to civilians? In short, is law becoming more of the problem in modern war instead of part of the solution?

Funny I should ask, General Dunlap answers himself, before going on to quote approvingly two people who agree with his contention, to the effect that

…a “new” kind of international law is emerging that is “profoundly undemocratic at its core” and “has the potential to undermine American leadership in the post-Cold War global system” ….”If the trends of international law are allowed to mature into binding rules,” they state, “international law may become one of the most potent weapons ever deployed against the United States.”

He defines this tendency as “lawfare” and offers a definition:

Lawfare describes a method of warfare where law is used as a means of realizing a military objective.

And Dunlap identifies non-governmental advocates of international law as the prime perpetrators. He has some more words about them too:

…Americans are inclined to be wary of those NGOs who purport to speak – literally – for the “world” on political issues, including LOAC [law on armed conflict]. Too often NGO positions look like political agendas. With respect to LOAC, it must always be kept in mind that NGOs are not political entities equivalent to sovereign nations; rather, they are no more than self-selected, idiosyncratic interest groups that are not accountable to any ballot box. This perspective is sometimes ignored, to the detriment of LOAC development and interpretation.

Consequently (?), Dunlap tells us, “there is an undeniable element of anti-Americanism in international law as it is developing today.” The danger can come from the application of law to violations, or it can come simply from people knowing about violations, as the good general instructs us:

The velocity of today’s communications capabilities presents real challenges to democracies as well as to those governments that, if not truly democratic, nevertheless depend upon support from constituencies that have access to globalized information sources. When television airs unfiltered, near real-time footage of what appear to be LOAC violations, complications result.

Or to put it another way,

The traditional US approach to accomplishing victory – and the one LOAC endorses – focuses on the military element and seeks to diminish the enemy’s armed strength. America’s challengers focus on the people element and seek to diminish the strength of their support for the military effort.

Now, General Dunlap wanted to defend some things in labeling the legal critique of military activity as “lawfare.” On a general level, he wanted to defend targeting civilian objects. On a level more specific than that, he wanted to defend the bombing by NATO of the Radio-Television Serbia headquarters in Belgrade:

Apparently relying on evidence that indicated that RTS broadcasts whipped up ethnic hatreds for years, Air Commodore David Wilby, a NATO spokesman, insisted, “Serb radio and TV is an instrument of propaganda and repression … It is … a legitimate target in this campaign.” His statement is consistent with US legal thinking. [ellipses in original]

He pointed a finger at NGOs as a collective (and Human Rights Watch in particular) as carrying out interest-damaging “lawfare” by criticizing the attack, and of course conveniently overlooked that the attack had no effect on either propaganda or military communication, and that the 16 people who were killed in the attack were technical employees of the television who had no control over editorial or any other policy. The concurrently developing doctrine of (enemy!) force protection enters into Dunlap’s calculation as well, since he contends that large numbers of opposing soldiers were spared at the cost of “small, albeit regrettable, numbers of civilian casualties.”

A couple of quick points about the implications of this fascinating “lawfare” doctrine:

  1. Lawfare is conceived as an enemy strategy. That is to say that the reason the term is invented is so that it can be invoked against advocates of law in order to associate them with military opponents. Sometimes, of course, advocates of law might be associated with military opponents. But the global deployment of the term, in conjunction with Dunlap’s sweeping statements about the nature and orientation of NGOs, does not suggest a strong willingness to make distinctions.
  2. Lawfare occurs in “asymmetrical” conflict, in which one party is smaller and less well armed than the other. For Michael Schmitt of the US Naval War College, this means that the “disadvantaged party has an incentive to blur the distinction between its forces and the civilian population in the hope that this will deter the other side from attack.” This worries Laurie Blank who points to “the great fluidity between hostile persons and innocent civilians,” but if there is fluidity the “lawfare” analysts seem to have a consensus about the direction of the flow: it goes from innocence to hostility and consequently expands the pool of legitimate targets.
  3. Contesting lawfare requires the cooperation of (people in) legal institutions. On the one hand this means lawyers involved with military planning and target selection to try to prevent violations occurring (this is a good thing), but on the other hand it means reducing risk by opposing international courts and tribunals, and if their founding and operation cannot be prevented, limiting their oversight.

Going back to General Dunlap again, he tells us something that has been represented in the pattern of responses we have been able to observe in the debate since the ICTY initiated its series of exonerations of high-ranking suspects last November:

Too often it seems that civilian lawyers and/or humanitarian actors suffer from an insufficient understanding of the military consequences of their legal positions. This can lead to situations that serve to make the law an object of disdain for many in uniform.

But in the immediate post-9/11 environment, our general was optimistic (about the “many in uniform,” that is). As he put it:

Considering Americans’ willingness to sacrifice their own legal protections, they are unlikely to be overly demanding about the supposed legal rights of foreign belligerents.

I am pretty sure that Dunlap’s essay was never translated, but I wonder whether “supposed” would have been translated as “tobože”?

In a later reflection on coining the term, General Dunlap sniffed that “the term was always intended to be ideologically neutral.” But it is fairly clear that it was not. As the debate developed, the discourse on “lawfare” came to be used for a wide variety of purposes. Mostly it was used for the intended purpose, which was to discredit criticism of the techniques and particularly the targeting used in military operations like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. But another was to provide a justification for the targeting of civilian objects more generally. When a concrete instance that could have led to legal charges emerged, it was used more specifically – for example by law professor (and former State Department official) Laurie Blank, who excoriated the 2009 report by Richard Goldstone on violations of the laws of war in Gaza. Professor Blank borrowed Dunlap’s argument that the presence of civilians in an area of military activity transform them into legitimate targets (so residential buildings, cultural sites and religious buildings are fair game), but also dismissed Goldstone’s report more broadly as an example of … you guessed it, “lawfare”!

There is a lot that is fairly fascinating about the whole “lawfare” discourse, and it certainly speaks to me as a lover of neologisms and portmanteaus in particular. But aside from the fairly obvious inference that everyone will make that it represents an effort to delegitimate fundamentally legitimate activity by way of verbal disqualification (nothing new there, that’s what ideology does), I would emphasize two things: 1) it shows that people in the military establishment care what people think, which is actually kind of awesome, and 2) it shows that they put a lot of energy into stopping them from thinking it, which is actually kind of creepy.

By now the canny reader will be wondering, this was a nice little journey through the mind of a portion of the military-legal establishment, but what is it doing in a blog about Balkan politics and academics? It is because some interesting relationships emerge between the “lawfare” discourse and the reasoning used in the latest generation of ICTY verdicts that have been the object of so much controversy since the first of them was handed down in November, even more so since one of the judges, Frederik Harhoff, circulated a letter that became public raising his concerns about changes in the way that evidence is evaluated and the possible influence of (and on) the ICTY’s presiding judge.

There are a couple of places where the language of “lawfare,” even though it is not explicitly invoked, made its way into the reasoning of judicial majorities, one of them indirectly and one of them fairly directly.

In February, the Perišić appeals chamber judgement found that “the provision of general assistance which could be used for both lawful and unlawful activities will not be sufficient, alone, to prove that this aid was specifically directed to crimes of principal perpetrators” – a finding echoed by the trial chamber in the Stanišić-Simatović case, which “recalls the Appeals Chamber’s holding that in most cases, the provision of general assistance which could be used for both lawful and unlawful activities will not be sufficient, alone, to prove that this aid was specifically directed to the crimes of the principal perpetrators.” The finding is consistent with the lawfarists’ intent on protecting commanders and policymakers as far as possible from accountability for the consequences of their activity, and to limit liability to cases where there is an explicit intention to commit crimes (as opposed to failure to assure that they will not be committed, or knowledge of the likelihood that crime is a probable result). What it appears to require is a presumption that all war aims be regarded as legal – calling them into question is lawfaring.

Maybe more interesting is the reasoning of the appeals chamber in the Oluja case. A group of military lawyers filed a “friend of the court” brief that concentrated on the development of a standard to distinguish legal from illegal targets. The appeals chamber decided not to admit the brief as the association of the signers with one of the parties to the case disqualified them as “friends of the court,” but it is clear to any reader that the majority decision adopted much of the reasoning used in the brief.

The brief argued that imposing concrete limits on shelling targets “will subject military commanders to a standard of care that is impossible to satisfy and operationally untenable.”

What makes the standard impossible is those perfidious civilians, or as the amici wannabes put it, “Amici fear that adoption of an unrealistic operational standard will, in future conflicts similar to the one before the court, result in noncompliance with IHL balancing standards which may ultimately increase the risk of casualties among the civilian population by incentivizing efforts to immunize lawful objects of attack by co-mingling them with the civilian population and requiring commanders to comply with an impossible standard.”

Otherwise “the commander should benefit from the presumption that his orders and actions fully complied with obligations established by international humanitarian law.” This would serve the purpose of “protect(ing) commanders from unjustified criminal responsibility based on orders resulting from necessarily hasty preparation.”

The first of those arguments resembles quite closely the argument justifying civilian targets in Gaza that (look higher up on the page) had been offered by “lawfare” advocate Leslie Blank – who was, coincidentally, the first signer of the brief.

Let’s put this into a bit of context. What is being played out at ICTY is not a competition over what nationality the judges like the least (as a lot of domestic right-wingers across the region have liked to argue), and it is probably not a sign of direct pressure or lobbying (as Judge Harhoff implied in his letter). It is a competition between rival visions of how legal regulation relates to military activities and the policies, accompanied by a consciousness of what an outcome in favour of the capacity would imply. For now it is a competition that states and militaries are winning, and victims are losing.


He’ll Hoff and he’ll Poff and he’ll blow your court down

54875_01_360Well, this has been an interesting week! After the pretty surprising not guilty verdict in the Stanišić and Simatović trial, a bunch of media were interested in explanations of how it was possible for the Tribunal to find (like it did in the Perišić case) that creating, training, arming, financing, housing, providing personnel and managing covert communication for paramilitary forces that commit crimes does not constitute a connection to the crimes. I was one of the people who offered responses, but there were many others as well, including Iva Vukusić, Srđa Popović, Saša Ilić, Sandra Orlović … there was a lot of critical reaction, I could go on.
There was a little bit of a counterreaction to the critical analyses of the verdict. Stanišić and Simatović’s lawyers published a piece arguing that criticism of the verdict amounted to undermining the right of the accused to a fair trial. A former human rights lawyer tied criticism by human rights activists (and people who sympathise with them) to a feeling of jilted love when verdicts failed to go their way, and claimed that ICTY’s narrowing standards of evidence were in fact nothing new. But the really fun part came from people who picked up on the point that there was a community of interest between judges who adopt restrictive standards of responsibility and states desiring a free hand in shelling stuff and using proxy forces. They decided that pointing out a relation between law and policy is “conspiracy theory,” and decided that this was a good way to defend the ethereal purity of the legal profession by way of terminological dismissal. There’s not much point in making a denial once someone has called you a conspiracy theorist (Your denial is just a sign that you are part of the conspiracy! And you would deny it, wouldn’t you?), but maybe it is at least worth pointing out that the etymology of the word conspiracy (let’s do it loosely as “breathing the same air”) might be used to suggest that what we are talking about when we talk about this disagreement is quite possibly in large part a conflict of approaches and worldviews, and maybe of professions as well.
The professions bit could possibly be the most interesting. As many people have been arguing over the years, when history-defining grievances and crimes are at stake, it is not entirely reasonable to expect legal institutions and procedures – even, if we want to go hypothetical, very good ones – to bring justice, peace, understanding and mutual recognition. This is in a greater measure the job of politics and culture, and one of the great failures of the post-2000 period is the way that politics and culture in large measure ran away from the table in fear, hoping that ICTY would do the job of establishing historical truth and encouraging dialogue instead of them. That was never going to happen even under the best conditions, but with worse conditions in place a lot of people are confronted with a lot of painfully open questions.
There is perhaps another interesting dimension to the conflict between the professions. Lawyers and researchers are both in weird and incestuous communities that trace their origins to the priesthood. Probably they descend from different parts of the priesthood, though. Lawyers come out of the tradition of priests who intercede between man and God, and their practice is founded on affirming their special relationship to ultimate authority and declaring in the interest of the people they represent, “I am right.” Researchers come out of the tradition of priests who try to elaborate and make sensible the mysteries of the world, and their practice is founded on making information available and excitedly shouting “Isn’t this interesting?” A lot of differences derive from these distinct approaches, but maybe the most important difference here is that the two professions do not share the same tendency to defend one another and close ranks.

As it turned out, the people who rushed to defend the sanctity of the lawyers from the people they thought were conspiring to suggest a conspiracy kind of jumped the gun, because eventually the greatest scandal would be produced not by the outsiders who were analysing them but from within their own ranks (darn the priesthood and its intrigues anyway!). On Thursday Danish media published a letter that an ICTY judge, Frederik Harhoff, had sent “privately” to 56 of his nearest and dearest friends. Was it an inappropriate leak of an individual’s private thoughts? Let’s say that when a senior international official sends something around to a large number of people, he either intends for it to become public or is very bad at calculating probability, and although Frederik Harhoff is a professor of law and not mathematics, there is a nonrandom chance that he understands something about probability.
Everybody who follows these topics has already seen the letter (if not, here it is in Danish, English and Naški) so there is not any need to go into too much detail on its contents. In sum it complains about the shifting orientation of the Tribunal to the question of the responsibility of high ranking indictees. accuses presiding judge Teodor Meron of putting undue pressure on his colleagues, raises the question of whether the situation is the result of political pressure, and expresses worry about whether the practice of ICTY is consistent with professional ethics.
Does the letter prove anything? No doubt it offers evidence that at least one senior judge lacks confidence in the leadership of the Tribunal and has some serious doubts and a few suspicions. It does not provide evidence that the suspicions are grounded in more than coincidence, and Harhoff does not claim to have evidence of that. So in that sense observers are largely in the same situation they were in before the letter was released: we do not know about lobbying or other types of pressure, and if there are people who do know they are (for perfectly legitimate reasons) not saying. So if there really are any conspiracy theorists out there, this is not the smoking gun they wanted to find. For my part I don’t care for conspiracies and am inclined to think that if there is influence it does not come from crude strongarming but from the existence of a group of people who have goals, values and orientations to their profession in common.
The letter does give more concrete confirmation of something that we knew before pretty much only from gossip. It confirms the existence of a meaningful (but we do not know how large) level of discomfort among people inside the institution with the direction in which it is headed, the legacy it is likely to leave, and the leadership it has. That is to say, it demonstrates that there are people inside the Tribunal who think what a lot of observers outside think. The fact that it comes from a senior judge who is not known as a live wire gives it a bit of credibility, though its not entirely temperate tone maybe makes it a bit of a wash.

Unsurprisingly the news was greeted with high fascination. The SENSE news agency described it as a “bombshell.” The former OTP spokesperson Florence Hartmann called for an investigation of the issue and raised the possibility of verdicts being revised. Marlise Simons reported in the New York Times of a movement afoot among judges to replace Meron as the presiding judge when his term comes up in the fall.
On a side note, there has also been a bunch of chazzerai about anti-Semitism that I am not meshuggeneh enough to touch.
Is it a bombshell, a pretext for retrials, or the catalyst for a judicial revolt? Time will tell, but a good measure of scepticism is always in order. I am inclined to think it is both a little bit less and a little bit more than that.
First, it is a sign that the crisis of confidence in ICTY has spread from outside the institution to inside. The people who dismiss critics as a bunch of wild-eyed justice-obsessed hippie sans-culotte nonlawyers intruding into the comfortable sanctum really may want to start paying attention.
But possibly more to the point, the whole inside-baseball character of the dispute and the recurrent efforts to limit discussion tell us once again that the putative clients of the Tribunal are not at the centre of anybody’s concern. And it tells us again that if societies genuinely need the work of justice to be done, they have to cast their net broader than the courts.


Conceding nonetheless that Psihopolis is an awesome name

Here’s an idea: psychologists might be better at psychology than at other things. Naturally this would have to depend on the psychologist. Everyone has their own concerns. Or do they?

Well, maybe it’s the questions they are asked. If a journalist were to ask me about the psychological health of the nation I would have a difficult time answering, just like I would have a difficult time answering a question about the “hands of the fish” or the “cuisine in bus stations”. Maybe Dr Zoran Milivojević just wanted to be polite and satisfy the interviewer. That would be understandable, admirable even. But actually it seems more like he was waiting for the chance to develop this.

Right then, so what is his diagnosis of Serbian society?

The first problem is “hypercivilisation”. Apparently after a long period of lawlessness, now the ruling groups “want to move Serbia to Scandinavia, which is impossible”. Geographically this cannot be contested, of course. But really he is talking about something they call “mentalities”, and contends that “we have become collectively stupid” because of unsatisfied political hopes, and this is supposed to have an effect on the readiness to accept legal regulation. So he is not really talking about barriers of physical geography, but insisting instead that the reason that Serbia can’t be Sweden is that folks haven’t got the lingonberries for it.

The second problem is, well, I can’t say for sure what it is but I can wonder at the sexual metaphors through which it is expressed. See, the problem with Europe is that it is a “continually older and uglier bride” (you okay there, Doctor?). But apparently she is rich (are we seeing a pattern?). And she “constantly blackmails and humiliates” hopeful Serbia, who is of course “a young man from the provinces”. So rustic young Serbia should pursue instead a promising young lady who is less of a snob, like “Russia, China or India”. They’ll get rich too, and don’t care what he did back on the farm as long as he can make a decent mućkalica. Did you see what he was getting at? Good, neither did I. I think maybe he was nationalising and transgendering Anna Nicole Smith.

Moving on, then. So why have people become insensitive? You already know the answer, it is “because of the great pressure of massive historical events”. These have produced two groups of people, one with “a hypertrophied love for themselves and their nation” and the other that “thinks that it will please Europe by spitting on their own nation”. And they do not like one another, they should try to emulate Dr M who evidently likes one better than the other but is an educated, tolerant fellow. But you see, they can’t. Partly this is their own fault, because they have a “desire for ever more information” but at the same time they “escape from reality”. But it is also partly the fault of the politicians, because (get this!) they do not understand that “Serbs love to be deceived and to be told what they want to hear by politicians, and not that different politicians tell them different things”. But since people don’t get that (!) they get depressed.

There is the diagnosis. There has to be a cure, right? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, “we have to start to value ourselves”. On the other hand it will not help, because “it is possible to be happy even in Serbia. But, in the Balkans happiness is, so to speak, forbidden”. Take that to the pharmacy and see what happens.

Was the good Doctor improvising for the satisfaction of the journalists? If he was, then was also improvising in 2003 when he described the same set of ideas to Glas javnosti and told them that the social situation had been the same “since the time of Tsar Dušan”. Just so we know two things: 1) Stefan Uroš IV Dušan Nemanjić ruled from 1331 to 1355, and 2) although 14th century social psychological literature is thin, social historians think that conditions were different then. Where I live, the health campaign posters in the buses tell people they should consult their GP if symptoms last longer than two weeks.

Dr Milivojević finishes off with a fine description of the West (of what?) and “their news, in which you can still hear that Serbs are awful”. But you see, Doctor, the news does not tell us who is awful, we have to draw those conclusions from the facts that are reported. You are the psychologist, it is your job to tell us who is awful. Or else it is not, but who pays attention to these distinctions?


Update: Oh, dear, it looks like Dr Milivojević has some thoughts on the killings in Norway as well. There is a broad analysis of his statement and some his other ideas by Rastislav Dinić in Peščanik.