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The new Serbian utopia

When Thomas More wrote his Utopia in 1516 he described a non-existent society on an imaginary island in the Atlantic Ocean. That society was supposed to show what an ideal world would look like, but also to indirectly analyze, using complex satire, the English society of his time. As it usually happens in history, satire was forgotten and a picture of an ideal world remained as a sort of signpost to social happiness. What is even more paradoxical, Thomas More’s work directly inspired, especially in the 19th century, some very specific suggestions on how to organize egalitarian agrarian societies so they fulfill the plans for the community of happy people. It seems that Thomas More unintentionally touched on an eternal human need – to fantasize about fair society in which all members are happy.

This would all remain just a satire, a critique of social inequality or a human need to fantasize, if some political systems of the 20th century didn’t use this utopian element as a rationale for some of the worst state tyrannies responsible for the death of millions. It turned out that, under the excuse of developing “fair society”, it is possible to cause the greatest injustices, that anti-utopia inevitably accompanies utopia when tyranny is justified by the promise of happiness in a distant and vague future.

In the 1980s Slobodan Milosevic’s nationalist movement used utopian elements to justify its political agenda in Serbia. The promises of “all Serbs in one state, fast railways to be built, the Swedish standard or protecting jobs despite the sanctions” were not only demagogic slogans, but also an image of an ideal world which is constructed despite the lack of understanding of others. The fact that this world could only be built on violence and crime and that it contradicted the concept of utopia didn’t interest its creators. Smuggling, one of the greatest inflations in European history, complete isolation of the country, an increase of criminal activities or the shutdown of an entire industry were discarded as minor problems in achieving the grand utopian goal – a great and just Serbian state which will finally see the so called end of national history that many strived for. Only that can explain the fact that Milosevic won the 1993 elections at the time of record inflation, when many of his voters were literally digging through garbage cans in search for food. Utopian fighters are ready for victims and in that way they only confirm its magnitude. That is why they are not interested in the victims of OTHERS: those are only obstacles on the road to achievement of the millennial dream. They are not interested in their own victims either, because they are merely “flowers at the altar of the fatherland”!

This sort of irrationality is basically invincible. Because if someone believes that a national utopian state is possible, he will readily believe that any crime needed to achieve it is necessary. It is thus understandable why Serbia after the fall of Milosevic’s regime never faced its consequences. In a haze of democratic changes in the late 2000, Serbia granted amnesty to all participants of the wars and all criminals from those wars. Utopian fighters are by definition untouchable – they are always led by the purest motives.

Only that can explain the fact that three political persons from the central parties of the past wars are now pillars of the “new progress” in Serbia. The president of the state, the prime minister and his first deputy picked up from where they were interrupted. Civil parties have been trying to make the citizens of Serbia face the reality for the past decade. They often did it indecisively and inconsistently, leaving a lot of room for nepotism and corruption. But the language they used, however heterogeneous, left no room for doubt that at least some form of facing the past is needed, as well as understanding of the fact that Serbia is a small, poor country and that a great effort is necessary in order to start the changes and modernization.

Serbian citizens chose differently in the last elections. They were promised a new utopia and they completely embraced it. That utopia was lurking from every screen and every billboard. From every headline and every article by “respectable” analysts. It was a new anesthetic for the impoverished – clean and efficient. And just like the last one, it leads to construction of the “new Serbian state”.

You only have to believe in a “strong and decisive leader” who can achieve it. For it is historical doom to doubt such an elected leader. This is a leader who sees “three steps ahead”, one who we should just trust and he alone will change the society for our well-being. He alone will bring billions of foreign investments. He alone will eradicate corruption, arrest the criminals and “rid” the society of crime. So he should be allowed to head all police and intelligence services. He will decide who can cooperate with him and how, the elections are only needed in order to confirm his strength.

This mythical giant has only one mission – the people’s well-being. Institutions will stand in his way and his life will be endangered, but, as Prometheus, he will manage to bring fire to the people. He will finally achieve the utopia his predecessors couldn’t or didn’t have time to achieve.

Of course, the issue of authoritarian society could be raised. One of the items on Adorno’s scale of authoritarianism is characteristically defined as: all we need is a strong leader who knows what he wants! We could also begin analyzing the serious failures of previous governments. But, this would not lead us to the right answer, let alone explain how is it that the dominant political leaders of Serbia today are Vucic, Dacic and Nikolic. It is certainly not a coincidence that the participants of the bloody feast of the nineties are again offering Serbia their vision of an ideal state.

Numerous analysis of our political life almost always miss the key ingredient – serious analysis of the electorate. Even the basic questions such as: what exactly was the war from the nineties, what was happening and what are its consequences? Instead of that, the majority of Serbian citizens still consider this war to be just, and a brutal interruption in achieving utopia we almost reached. And then, faced with falling standard of life, poverty and unemployment, they again choose the same contractors of the previous utopia. Because they are again offering the border „Karlobag-Ogulin-Karlovac-Virovitica“, only this time in economy. Back then we were waiting for the Russians, today it’s the Arabian sheiks. Everything is the same and nobody expects anything from the citizens except the support for the leader. He “knows”, he “thinks of everything”. He will build the fast railways, Belgrade on water, rebuild the industry, provide jobs for everyone.

Thus, only a society that didn’t say anything about the price of construction of the previous utopia can start building another one with the same contractors. Faith is a substitute for rational thinking and loyalty is a condition for the prize in an imaginary future. Only when we start to skeptically evaluate the promises of political leaders and think about what we did during the previous decades and the price we paid for that, will Serbia be able to “grow” as a state. A beginning could have been if Vucic, Dacic and Nikolic went to Strpce on February 27th, on the campaign trail, to mark the anniversary of a violent crime at the Belgrade-Bar railway. To admit at least once the price of their participation in the creation of Milosevic’s national utopia. Maybe then it would have been much clearer that, instead of utopia, another promise is more appropriate for Serbia – for example, that threatening the opposition, controlling the media and cheating on foreign investments won’t get us far. Mussolini loved Plutarh’s saying: Navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse (It is necessary to sail the seas, it is not necessary to live) and we know how it ended for him. “A strong leader who knows how to sail” won’t save Serbia, only painstaking building of democratic institutions and hard work of the people will. Unfortunately, in this election Serbia chose the opposite. It stills prefers lies over truths about itself.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Peščanik.net, 18.03.2014.