Keep on Trifkin’

One of the curiosities that emerged from the terrorist attacks in two places in Norway on 22 July comes out of the odd manifesto (document is an enormous PDF full of nonsense) that the killer produced and distributed shortly before the crime. In fact it might be hard to call it a manifesto: it has some original text, some cribbed and slightly altered text, and then whole articles and essays lifted from the work of an assemblage of wackos who would be familiar to people who follow the extreme right press and blog world out of commitment or a perverse desire for entertainment, but to nobody else.

I am not sure that I recommend reading the document; it’s less well crafted and reasoned than a below-average undergraduate essay. The fellow talks quite a lot about things he does not know about. He has a long passage on cultural conflicts in American universities (although he never even attended a Norwegian one). He has an extended discussion of the works of Teodor Adorno (which he clearly has not read). He has an overview of the history of the Ottoman Empire (which does not even reach the level of Miroljub Jevtić, who is at least funny). But most disconcerting to the več-nam-je-bilo-sranja-preko-glave crowd, he has the revelation that his path to violent idiocy began with his shock at the Kosovo bombing campaign in 1999. So to the other sets of concerns he understands badly, he added the history of the Balkans, and his main, heavily quoted and cribbed source on that (as well as on some theological topics!) is one Srđa Trifković. I have not done word counts, but this Trifković may be the single most heavily cited author in the manifesto, if your count excludes whole articles that are reproduced and works by people who write under pseudonyms they got from their local Fjord dealership.

Now, if you are familiar with the scholarly literature on the topics that Srđa Trifković writes about then you have quite possibly never heard of Trifković. He got a doctorate in 1990 but published his last peer-reviewed work in 1993. His work is not read by students, cited by scholars or reviewed in academic journals. His connection with universities is tenuous: he had a brief period as an adjunct at a private Catholic institution in Texas, and had been on the faculty of Rose Hill College, an abortive effort at Orthodox fundamentalist higher education that admitted 26 students in 1997 and 1998 and closed never having awarded a degree. He identifies himself as a visiting professor at the Faculty of Political Science in Banja Luka, which means that he comes for three-day visits to give lectures on the “theory of foreign policy” that fourth-year students are obligated to listen to (he is not listed as a member of the faculty, but then neither is anybody else as the page is nonexistent).

But if you followed diaspora politics in the 1990s you knew about him. He was the representative of Radovan Karadžić to the international press and the representative of Republika Srpska in London (he preferred to call himself a “Balkan affairs analyst with close links to the Bosnian Serbs”). He hung on in the Region for a bit, doing a stint as an advisor to the convicted war criminal Biljana Plavšić and another for the unindicted co-conspirator Vojislav Koštunica. He offered his interpretations of things like prophets and swords as a defence witness to ICTY in 2003 and 2008.

Mostly, though, he got involved in larger propaganda campaigns. He hung out at an institute that was named for an old James Garner television vehicle that declared as its mission “to preserve the institutions of the Christian West”. He hung out at another institute named after a poet who, they say, “gave his life in the fight to free Balkan Christians from Islamic rule” (actually he died of fever, but whatever). He put out a couple of books seeking to persuade people that civilisation is fundamentally threatened by Islam (let him summarise his own argument, no?). He found the time to praise dear Mr Griffin and the charming folk at the BNP.

If you don’t follow the weirdness on the far right then all of this will have been under your radar (or of no interest to you, like the recipes for nostalgia-tinged home cooking that may very well be at the back of the weekly KKK newsletter). It is all a way of participating in the activity of the fringe folks who say Europe is turning into “Eurabia” and that all those seemingly nice immigrants who are doing all your work for you and serving you delicious kebab have a secret plan to reduce you to “dhimmitude“, which may sound like a charming term from the lexicon of Donovan but is actually meant to make you feel certain that living around people with a different nationality and religion is sinister. There are some well known outlets for this sort of thing, which I will not bother naming or linking.

So there is the connection: these are the waters into which Mr Trifković jumped, which Mr Breivik guzzled, and which people outside of that pond probably notice fairly rarely, maybe only on those occasions when unpopular political parties like BNP manage to make their ideas part of the programme of parties with supporters, like the Tories and Labour. It contributes to building an environment of hostility in which it was reasonable to expect that somebody, sooner or later, would feel inspired to commit the kind of crime that was eventually committed in Norway.

Does his personal history and prominence in the “thinking” of a mass killer make Trifković an accessory to a crime? Probably not in any way that a court would understand it. It would also be difficult to say that it damages his reputation, because his reputation is what it is.

For his part Trifković excuses himself with an analogy, claiming “by the same logic, it was the Beatles who inspired Charles Manson to kill Sharon Tate, because he found in their texts a coded invitation to that crime”. The difference, of course, is that the members of the Beatles had an artistic, literary and even a political profile distinguishable from the criminal act — not a whole history in its cloud of associations. As he told the court (p. 13903) in the Stakić case, “sweeping generalisations have a certain quality to them of reflecting an overall reality”.