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Deputy minister’s attack on ‘unpatriotic’ artists shows that Serbia has not learned the lessons of the Milosevic era, when, as now, patriotism was shamelessly abused to advance people’s careers.
|Culture Minister Bratislav Petkovic (left), and his deputy for media Dragan Kolarevic (right) | Photos by Wikimedia Commons|
If statistics were ever compiled on which words were most misused in post-war Yugoslavia, patriots and patriotism would surely rank at the top.
For more than two decades, conflicting understandings of the meaning of the word patriotism have been a leading cause of division in society.
Over these years the term has become a convenient shield, hiding all manner of personal ambitions on the part of certain individuals, which have often been harmful to the public interest.
Serbia should have learned from its past that those who declare themselves the greatest patriots often use this cover to hide their own aspirations.
However, these lessons are apparently hard to learn. Instead, every once in a while, a new self-style patriot tries to fulfil his personal dreams, using populist rhetoric to make himself more attractive – much as the malevolent prince Richard III did in the Shakespeare play.
A recently appointed deputy minister has employed a similar mechanism in a recent article he wrote, titled: “Time for the first Serbian cultural uprising”.
In the article, the deputy minister of culture responsible for media, Dragan Kolarevic, divided Serbian artists into two groups that are all too familiar to people who lived in the Milosevic era - patriots and traitors.
Kolarevic didn’t hesitate to single out some of the latter by name, though his main criteria for defining “unwanted artists” appears only to have been their support for rival political options, namely the Democratic Party and the Liberal Democratic Party.
Kolarevic called on the masses to join a “cultural uprising” against those that presumably think differently from the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, which took power following May’s general election.
Most of the Serbian media, as well as former president Boris Tadic, have declared that the article revealed “the real intentions” of the new government – to use “patriotism” once more to win popularity for the ruling party among the masses.
However, it’s not a sufficient explanation of the phenomenon, when one considers what Kolarevic’s cure for the art world’s “anti-Serbian politics” implies.
Specifically, he called for the establishment of an alternative theatre where nationally minded actors could work, as well as for the reconstruction of the Museum of Automobiles.
Even if those institutions weren’t already in the ownership of his boss, the culture minister, Bratislav Petkovic (which they are: The Museum of Automobiles, and an alternative theatre “Modern garage”), one might ask what such institutions can do to make Serbian art “more patriotic”, as Petkovic himself urged the art world to be, before he was appointed minister.
We might ask whether Kolarevic only wanted to draw the attention of the newly appointed minister by setting out an ideology and an action plan for Petkovic’s undiplomatic call for “patriotic” art, which he backtracked on shortly after becoming minister.
Having in mind that Petkovic then changed his mind, on realizing that a culture ministry must support all kinds of art, it seems that his deputy has gone too far with his article.
In his text, Kolarevic speculatively inquired whether the artists he had named were followers of the anti-Serb mindset allegedly established after the First World War, which has mostly manifested itself in culture.
This anti-Serb tradition, Kolarevic wrote, continued under the Communist regime of Josip Broz Tito, and kept existing thanks to modern traitors and Serb-haters like the afore-mentioned artists.
But what does Kolarevic mean, exactly? Is the singer Bajaga a spy, or the actor Predrag Ejdus a traitor?
According to Kolarevic, all their work should be considered an expression of the national hatred felt by traitors for patriots.
So, does this mean that civil rights in Serbia now mean nothing for the authorities? Where is the right guaranteed by the constitution to think and to express one’s own opinion?
Knowing the circumstances of Serbia, it might all work out perfectly well for the new deputy minister.
The ever-divided Serbs seem to long for new divisions, and it is always easy to spark new flames in the everlasting fires of Serbian nationalism.
And the deputy minister may have even scored some political points for his patriotic art idea, having in mind that new minister first came up with it.
In Serbia, the comfortable lives of functionaries depend on wills of ministers. And you know what you my get when you flatter the king. Just don’t tell him his new suit is transparent.
So, perhaps Kolarevic should not be held entirely to blame for his “patriotic” call. As a former journalist in Milosevic’s state TV in the Nineties, he has already shown he knows all about naked propaganda.
He might have never have written his “Nazi-like” article, as former President Boris Tadic called it, had he not felt encouraged to do so by the earlier “patriotic” statements of Petkovic himself.
Although Petkovic spoke out in reference to one controversial play, “Zoran Djindjic” by Croatian director Oliver Frljic, his statement could have served as a guide to those who wished to make a political profit out of it.
Thus, Kolarevic may have only wished to secure his position in the ministry by using well-rehearsed tactics.
The real lesson is that the future culture minister should never have made his “patriotic” art statement in the first place. Or rather, a person with this kind of an attitude should have never been chosen for such a function.
This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.
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