A Message To My Serbian Friends In Response To The Incident In Belgrade

You are the real Europeans. It is you who deserve Europe’s aid.

I would like to return to Wednesday night’s incident.¹

In itself, the aggressive disruption of a film festival by a group of nationalistic Serbian communists deserves little attention, so thoroughly does it discredit the pathetic individuals who committed it.

It is indeed regrettable that the people of Belgrade were prevented from discussing the future of ISIS, its criminal endeavor, and the valiant struggle of the Kurdish Peshmerga.

But, unfortunately — as all my Serbian friends have told me — this act of violence reflects something that those friends and all the country’s believers in democracy endure on a daily basis: pressure, insults, bullying, propaganda, and media functioning in the service of the regime. As well as groups that, like the one that acted yesterday, are tolerated and even manipulated by the authorities.

My Serbian friends, you live under a regime that calls itself by a new name — a “democrature.” It is a dictatorship that makes use of universal suffrage and the appearance of democracy to bring civil society to heel and stifle Serbians’ aspirations to freedom.

You still enjoy real freedoms, of course. But often, it’s as if Milosevic, the dictator toppled in 2000, were still in power. Milosevic lite. Milosevic 2.0, without the war. An heir to the Milosevic who was hostile to culture and a stranger to freedom of the spirit and to historical truth. You live with a former Milosevic minister who is interfering with the duty to remember and with the work of mourning the horrors of the war in Bosnia, of the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, and of the torture and repression of Serbian citizens.

At the same time, your recently elected president, Mr. Vusic, calls himself a European and claims to want to lead Serbia into the European Union.

And on their side, Europeans, in my country and others, play along and take his statements at face value.

Why is that? Because the same perception of the Balkans has prevailed for a century: turbulent people always stirring up trouble, unsuited for democracy, people who supposedly need a strong leader to tame them—in the present case a mixture of Viktor Orban et Recip Erdogan who wants Europe but without Europe’s values and who the Europeans hope will serve as a barricade against the influx of migrants fleeing war.

In the face of all that, my Serbian friends, I am here to show my solidarity.

Goran Markovic², Philip David³, cherished companions from Vreme and Danas⁴, you are (exactly as when I first met you a quarter-century ago at the dawn of the wars in Yugoslavia, not far from where we are now in Belgrade) in a state of resistance.

You were on the front lines, like the great Yugoslavian novelist Danilo Kis and so many others, against the suicide of your nation at the hands of nationalists. On the front lines you remain—and I admire you. You are the real Europeans. It is you who deserve Europe’s aid. And it is you whom I have come, once again, to honor.

Translated from French by Steven B. Kennedy

¹ Yesterday evening, May 10, 2017, at Belgrade’s Dvorana Cultural Center, members of the Serbian militant nationalist group SKOJ stormed the stage following a screening of Bernard-Henri Lévy’s Peshmerga, a documentary on the war being waged by Kurdish fighters against ISIS. In the wake of the ensuing brawl, a scheduled debate on terrorism and ways to fight it had to be canceled.

² Goran Markovic is a Serbian playwright, screenwriter, actor, and director of the film, Serbie, année zéro, produced by Bernard-Henri Lévy.

³ Filip David is a prominent Serbian writer and screenwriter.

⁴ Vreme and Danas are leading Serbian newspapers.