Aleksandra Đurić Bosnić

A closed society and its allies:
The use of ideology in Serbia’s
culture, 1986-2016





Case study 7


Popper’s observations1 about common tendencies of the policies of contemporary totalitarianisms as illustrative of a closed society are almost completely applicable to the culture in Serbia from mid-1980s till the late 1990s: and that is to prevent any outside influence that could jeopardize the rigidity of collective taboos, anti-humanism standing against all egalitarian, democratic and individualistic initiatives, anti-universalism and particularism in the service of the partition between “us” and “others” that dams introduction of universalistic tendencies. In the cultures prone to closing themselves up or have already been established as such the idea of totality is usually seen as something embarrassing and superfluous as a potential of an open and different, changing and mobile world, which – such as it is – unavoidably bans the category of “other” as hostile. Hence, all closed cultures that stand against multicultural dialogues are exactly the reverse of a model of a good society as considered in contemporary sociologist theory: a society unbounded by the territory of a nation-state and unlimited to just one institutional dimension of modernity, and with a well-balanced relation between individual and collective ethics.2 The more so, every closed culture will be standing, unavoidably and always, against the world (surroundings) with ongoing process of modernity conducing to, among other things, global, intercultural communication that creates a world without unwelcome “others” and based on planetary and imperatively continuous dialogue between cultures.

Closed societies and closed cultures are, as rule, afraid of contacts with other cultures, are blocked in time, space and history.3 As closed societies are basically static, any pluralism (ethical, aesthetic or existential) and any critical thinking are alien to them. What conserves their closeness and enables it in the first place is an absolute, axiomatic conclusion, mostly simplified and banalized (un untrue as such) that is being dogmatically recognized as true per se by the majority – by the superfluous and legislative collective. In closed societies, whatever is true is always functional and efficient in the sense of preservation of closeness, and always in a collective, impersonal, conventional and general form. The principle of closeness, the fear of unknown, the tendency towards everything generally recognized and uniform in theory and practice, the dam to critical thinking in the name of ready-made solutions and patterns as guardians of collective identity make up every cultural system prone to produce and promote stereotypical perceptions that – in this context and as a rule – tendentiously and stigmatizingly choke perceptions and articulations, and are, as such, built in the very foundations of value systems as new mechanisms of “valuation” and “reconsideration” (Đerić, 2005).4 In closed societies, political, religious, national and cultural contexts always have a common ideological prefix. Ideological matrixes, in this sense, could be defined as some semantic substrate, mutually adjusted and compatible sets of views, value guidelines and commitments, and stereotypical formations as sets of stereotypical notions joined together by the principle of semantic and expressive closeness. Stereotypical formation (especially national stereotypes) could be formalized as narratives exposed in various areas of social and cultural life (in science, educational system, literature, arts, the media, etc.). In other words, stereotypical formations joined together thematically and functionally, make up the tissue of ideological matrixes.

And these stereotypical formations built in ideological matrixes make up nucleuses of manipulative strategies, always value-based, rigid and unchangeable, instrumentalized in political and (or) national contexts – and used as such in cultures of closed societies.

The closed society model – especially in transitional countries – permanently challenges their cultures. Given that a clear-cut ideological concept wherein culture is usually assigned the role of a state’s predominant ideological apparat is a major precondition for its (the model’s) construction, instrumentalization of culture is an inevitable product of such cultural systems. However, a culture as such - rigid, violent and inflexible, and based on problematic value-based postulates – turns out as unsustainable and so triggers off a reaction: the culture of change or the culture of revolt with ideological prefix of an open society. Inasmuch as ideological instrumentalization of culture is inconceivable without cultivation and distribution of ideological matrixes, a change of ideology (as a change of the established values) is impossible without destruction and deconstruction of the established matrixes.

Manipulation – Simulation – Identity5

The research of relations between ideological matrixes and closed culture by analyzing construction and deconstruction of predominant stereotypes in the Serbian culture in the period 1986-2016 shows that there are two ideological principles, which are at the same time two most efficient mechanisms for closing societies and cultures: simulation as production of new realities or an appropriate perception of the world; and manipulation with thus produced realities aimed at constituting collective but also individual identities (adjusted to the ideological corps in power). The type of thus planned, “welcome” identities is always compatible with new realities that have been created to frame up the predominant ideological practice. Doubly adjusted ideological construct and new realities on the one hand, and new realities and their protagonists - subjects on the other are used as a mechanism (probably not always and quite sufficient but certainly necessary) that conserves the desired social model and safeguards its ideological vitality, as well as its unchangeableness, which is the ultimate goal of every closed society. Saying in this context that every closed society has its clearly defined and strongly construed “definition of realities” would not be exaggerated. The construction of new social realities based on repressive ideological constructs necessarily implies both the principle and practice of simulation to create “a new sense” or contents that is always in the service of its primary mission. Adjustment of the truth and contents to experiences and, above all, to interests and needs of the ideologically predominant group enables and produces another, unavoidable constituent of ideological cleansing and closing up a society – manipulation as the practice based on the premise that veracity of the offered idea or content does not always guarantee that this idea would be accepted and distributed, and that the masses that are subject to manipulation are not usually aware of the difference between the true and the false, constructed content.

Therefore, manipulation of social groups and individuals is impossible unless realities have already been manipulated for “the use of ideas” meant to produce and set the sense. Both mechanisms have a common denominator: misuse or relativization of the truth. Paradoxically, ideological production and setting of the sense has an integrative social function as they are meant to achieve their primary goal: to form, shape and conserve a unique public opinion. Usually ideological manipulations are most intensive in the societies wherein, due to the periods of crises, the public is disunited, i.e. marked by tensions within social groups and their divergent national, political and ideological stands. In this context, socio-psychological engineering of a social group that is in the phase of rise and growth (or is already in power) is solely directed towards artificial creation of a unique public stand as a conditio sine qua non of the establishment of a desirable ideological model.

According to Šušnjić, the primary action the predominant social group takes to create “ideologically healthy masses” is occupation of “powerful mass media,” and when it comes to power it monopolizes ideas and information and, consequently, takes control over the flow of information, which is major segment of all ideological usurpations (characteristic for all repressive systems). The control over information is exactly an unavoidable method and source of social power, based on the absence of alternative voices and “information dependence” on the center of power; by producing a desirable ideological code and turning it into a meaningful code, this center creates awareness that crossing the red line of “the set” ideological-information matrix implies banishment. “In a society in which major information (ideas) are monopolized there is no possibility for alternative thinking, while the power an individual (group) has over other individual (group) is fully dependent on the existence of nonexistence of alternatives. A new form of dependency has been created – the dependency on those in possession of information (ideas). Hence, the monopoly on information (ideas) and manipulation of information (ideas) proves to be a powerful source of social power.”6

The flow of ideas and information from a single center of power simultaneously strengthens the sense of collective cohesion, inter-dependence, solidarity and understanding among like-minded people, and drastically lessens the possibilities for social confrontation between different groups; and the other way round – weakening of a single center of power and disintegration of its monopoly on information would – due to social interaction – enable the establishment of alternative, parallel and independent centers of power, which usually implies the existence of a variety of information corps and indoctrinated or ideological codes. In this case information could turn contradictory and, as such, into a factor of entropy of the existing ideological system. Hence, in close societies the public is rendered passive and basically frustrated, excluded from the building of the real-life social order, and paradoxically substituted by the omnipotent collective, i.e. the people, the nation, once again strongly indoctrinated and uniformly ideologized.

Strong mass perceptions that fabricated half-truths have been accepted and recognized “voluntarily” and “freely,” and that decisions about the content presented to people have been made “independently” emerge as characteristic consequences of repressive-ideological modeling of the reality. Consequently, agile and continued fabrication of information at the same creates the uncritical public, social groups that, regardless of evident and understandable differences, remain the like-minded mass, a paradoxically disoriented (since oriented towards the center of power alone) political community deprived of any political and ethical code.

This unhealthy social community made of like-minded people, instructed and destructed by centers of power, could be defined as “spoiled” and as a community of people prone to the ruler’s arbitrariness. Vukašin Pavlović notes that a political community without political ethos is a spoiled community, the community of people subjected to the mercy of centers of power. As such, this community is unhealthy and sick, and its power is destructive, because while feeding itself it devours the surrounding social tissue and thus – itself. Such unrestricted and destructive nature of political power is most evident in the periods of tyranny and despotism.7

The Change of Paradigm: Functional Counter-memory

After disintegration of the Second Yugoslavia – in parallel with growing inflation, poverty, unemployment and popular distrust in the state leadership – uncontrolled growth of the reaffirmed “Serbian question” and national emancipator aspirations, the process of “re-coding of the past” resulted in a change of paradigm. “The need to speak out about the things that have never been spoken aloud became too strong to be restrained. ‘Counter-memories’ aspiring to rise to the surface were not less political than ‘memories’ promoted at the time. Once against, ‘justice’ and interpretation of developments and powers were questioned so as to occupy the voids left or created after the erosion of Yugoslavism and socialism.”8

The process of reconsideration and creation of a new context, this time based on reaffirmation of the Serbian national question started with promotion of new ideological matrixes, intellectuals, scientists, artist and writers. And the tissue of these new ideological constructs was made up of recreated stereotypical notions about collective trauma, heroism, suffering, treason and, above all, about a unique and jeopardized nation. “In almost no time the topoi of martyrdom and genocide…with genocide at the top of the list dominated in Serbia’s public discourse. Hardly any term other than genocide was so much used and misused in the 1980s and 1990s. Permanent repetition of the term in various variants (physical, political, judicial, cultural, religious, administrative genocide, etc.) created a pattern of perception that suppressed almost everything else.”9

These Zundhaussen’s historical findings are largely based on the facts taken from literature and culture of the time, when, in the early 1980s, the radical policy was just in the bud: a cultural U-turn preceded the political. As demiurges of this new, only hinted “nationally enlightened order” Zundhaussen identifies Dobrica Ćosić (and his novels The Time for Dying and The Sinner), Vuk Drašković (with his novel The Knife) and Jovan Radulović (in his cult play of the time Golubnjača)10: while in these two novels Ćosić, from his Serb-centric angle, writes about World War I and laments creation of Yugoslavia, Drašković and Radulović deals with the traumas of World War II: killings of the Serbs in the independent state of Croatia.”11 In the article “Media, War and Hatred” published in the Kultura magazine in 1994 and dealing with the problem of the media propaganda (which had prepared the terrain for the war by articulating public opinion, circulating misinformation, and brimming with fabricated explanations and scenes saturated with hatred) M. Dragićević Šešić observes that cultural topics of the time were almost all about cultural history of the nation or inspired by it. “I was very hard to publish a book about the nature, and theory of art that tackles not the injustice done to ‘our’ people or unable to prove that ‘our’ arts and artists are best in the world.”12

From a historical perspective this is a period, says Zundhaussen, when the biggest threats were extreme ethno-centrism and fabricated spiritual atmosphere marked by the poetics of self-sacrifice, suffering and clear-cut ethnically-based partitions instead of overcoming the past and dialogue. The earlier ideological polarization (freedom fighters vs. collaborators) was substituted by the victims vs. villains polarization, in this specific case clearly identified as the Serbs/victims and the Croats, Bosnian Muslims, Albanians and the “West”/villains. “The historical topic about genocide against the Serbs committed in World War II” came into the focus of scholarly studies.13 In his Book on Kosovo published in 1995 historian Dimitrije Bogdanović promoted the thesis about the Albanians in Kosovo, who were threatening the Serbs with “biological genocide.” Commenting on the book several years later in the “Serbian Literature Magazine” Milorad Pavić not only recommended that it should be translated into French and English but also suggested that the Writers’ Association of Serbia officially demand the Socialist Republic of Serbia to bestow decorations on all publishers worldwide that had published at least one Serbian book and that all university professors who had lectured the Serbian literature and all translators of the Serbian literature receive the newly established St. Sava Order.14

In the period after 1985 came low-intensity popular protests marked by euphorically hued ideological messages from scholars and intellectuals. “In February 1986 160 Kosovo Serbs and Montenegrins submitted a list of complaints to the People’s Assembly. A month earlier, 216 Serbian intellectuals (‘dissidents’) led by Dobrica Ćosić signed a petition in which Kosovo Serbs were proclaimed victims of genocide.”15 However, Serbian national program was concretely articulated in 1986 in the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, which was understood and interpreted as the Serbian people’s road to the future. Final passages of the Memorandum draft explain scientific-cultural-ideological-political ambitions of its authors. “The first condition for our transformation and renewal is democratic mobilization of entire intellectual and moral forces of the people, but not only for implementing the decisions made by political forums but also for creation of a program for the future in a democratic manner, which would, for the first time in modern history, truly combine knowledge and experience, conscience and courage, imagination and responsibility in a general social task: on this occasion the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences expresses its readiness to wholeheartedly and with all its power work for those fateful tasks that historically challenge our generation (the draft Memorandum, autumn 1986).16

The draft Memorandum is structured in two parts: the first is titled “The Crisis of the Yugoslav Economy and Society,” and the second “The Position of Serbia and the Serbian People.” Its final passages about sense and purpose of its creation the analysis of key words (our transformation, renewal, democratic mobilization, power of the people, implementation of decision, creation of a program, plan for the future, imagination and responsibility, knowledge and experience, conscience and courage) suggest that the time is ripe for a general national renewal, while the first part deals with deconstruction of the existing ideological matrixes and indoctrinated codes of socialist and Titoist Yugoslavia, and the second part – with the establishment of new ideological-doctrinal coordinates for the future.

According to the authors of the Memorandum, deconstruction of the predominant and constant ideological matrix – anti-Serbism, gives rise to new ideological matrixes that can be applied to all spheres of social life, with special emphasis on building and mobilization of national collective and cultural identity. What is particularly indicative is the general applicability of both critical remarks and concrete suggestions, with stress placed on their paradoxality and their euphorically and dramatically mobilizing tone inapplicable to “scientific” interpretation of context and problems. Principled and generally applicable suggestions about how to dismantle the existing ideological corpus were about systematically neglected knowledge based on the symbiosis between nationalism, separatism, authoritarianism and the practice of political voluntarism that “unconsciously combines ignorance with irresponsibility, which not even self-government was incapable of reining in.” In order to have the necessary changes implemented in practice, prognosticate the authors of the draft, the nation should get rid of the ideology that prioritizes nationality and territoriality and, hence, separatism and nationalism, but also of Stalinist and Kominform legacy evident in labeling opponents “enemies” and manipulating the language, science and culture. Paradoxically, in the name of potentially nationalistic and closed society, the authors of the Memorandum have theoretically destructed Yugoslavia’s political system by qualifying it as an unproductive and bureaucratic, stalled or retrograde.

Noting that citizens have been permanently and skillfully politically manipulated, the authors defined the existing system as “a mixture of the remnants of old and authoritarian state inherited from the history of the so-called ‘real’ socialism in the East. Such mixed state is incapable of creating, making necessary changes and adjusting its institutions and goals to the ever changing society. A blocked political organization becomes an organization that safeguards status quo and, hence, the unproductive, uninventive professional politics and negative selection of loyal and incompetent officials.17 In a state as such, claim the authors, “public discourse became totally impotent and ineffective even when it gives voice vital truths…

“Not even scholarly and expert opinions can prevail, despite their well-argued assessments and suggestions, if they differ from political factors’ fixed opinions and stances.”18 And, apart from economy and ethics of “the ideological society,” “scholarly” and “expert opinion” by the group that drafted the Memorandum focused on the establishment of a new (national) value system.

In this context they also analyze “the crisis of culture” and “destruction of the value system” marked, as the authors put it, by “unrestrained primitivism fueled by consumer mentality and proneness to trash in literature, music, film and all sorts of entertainment.” However, it was “the general provincialism of culture” the authors saw as the biggest cultural problem of the then Yugoslavia, its regionalization and destruction of its Yugoslav and universal meaning. “Deep-rooted in provincial culture, separatism and nationalism are becoming growingly aggressive.”19 All the above-mentioned neuralgic point of the existing ideological corpus, say the authors, make the situation “tense, if not explosive” and with their “dramatics” jeopardize not only the Serbian people but also the stability of entire Yugoslavia. For all these reasons, the Serbian people should be liberated from the sense of historical guilt (fabricated by the anti-Serbian coalition) and the years-long complot manifested in the Serbian people’s expulsion from Kosovo – in physical, political, judicial and cultural genocide against them – should be revealed. And since all this is about the biggest defeat suffered “in the wars for liberation Serbia had waged from Orašac in 1804 till the rebellion in 1941” the response to this “open war” is the “one and only possible” – “resolute defense of one’s people and territory.”

However, since the Serbian people in Croatia are cut off its mother country, which is prevented from taking care of their economic and cultural situation, “the integrity of the Serbian people and their culture in the whole of Yugoslavia becomes the vital problem of their survival and development,” conclude the authors. In this sense, they proclaimed it imperative to find a mainstay in their own history and to prevent, at all costs, further erosion of culture and national identity of the Serbs. This erosion caused by the ruling ideology is evident in appropriation, undervaluation, neglect and decay of cultural achievements of the Serbian people through suppression of their language, loss of the Cyrillic alphabet, misuse of the literature, and laying claim on and separating into parts of the Serbian cultural heritage, claim the authors. “Here the domain of literature serves as an arena of arbitrary rule and anarchy. No other Yugoslav people have been so brutally denied their cultural and spiritual integrity as it was to the Serbs. No other literature and artistic heritage has been so furrowed, messed up and robbed as was the Serbian heritage.”20

Further on, the usurped cultural and national identity was also evident, claimed the authors, in disintegration of Serbian literature and culture. “While Slovenian, Croatian, Macedonian and Montenegrin cultures are nowadays integrated, only the Serbian is being systematically disintegrated. It seems to be ideologically legitimate and in the spirit of self-government when the Serbian literature is freely distributed to Vojvodinian, Montenegrin or Bosnian writers. The best writers and major literary works being torn from the Serbian literature in order to artificially establish some new regional literatures.”21 The authors claim that “disintegration” and “distribution” of the Serbian literature are followed, as a part of a precisely thought-out plan, by “appropriation” and “separation into parts” of the Serbian cultural heritage, which jeopardizes not only the nation’s present and future but also its past and, hence, the entire national integrity and identity of the Serbian people. “Appropriation and separation into part of the Serbian national heritage are so extensive that students are taught that Njegoš is not a Serbian writer, that Laza Kostić and Veljko Petrović are Vojvodinians, while Petar Kočić and Jovan Dučić are Bosnian writers.”22

Along these lines, the authors of the draft conclude that this is all about consequent and permanent ideological reshaping that implies even bans and reductions, and chauvinistic interpretations. “The Serbian culture has more unfit, banned, ignored or unwelcome writers and intellectuals than any other Yugoslav literature; many of those have been even erased from the literary…” And while outstanding Serbian authors have been the only ones blacklisted in all Yugoslav mass media, “in some republics and provinces curricula has not only brutally ideologically reduced the history of the Serbian people but also subjected it to chauvinistic interpretations.”

Due to so well-planned ways to destroy the Serbian culture and the Serbian national being, which are, claim the authors, more than indicative, the threat to the nation is beyond any doubt. “In this way the Serbian culture and cultural heritage are represented as less significant than they actually are, while the Serbian people are being stripped of a major pillar of their moral and historical self-consciousness.” A score of “proposals” follows this one, all of them intoned dramatically and mobilizingly, and aimed at “changing” the existing situation. The most comprehensive and general among them was the proposal for the establishment of “full national and cultural integrity of the Serbian people regardless of a republic or province they live in.”23

An explanation was given to this proposal the authors saw as the one leading to exercise of “historical” and “democratic” right; “In less than fifty years, in two generations in a row, twice subjected to physical destruction, forced assimilation, conversion and denial of their own tradition, under the burden of guilt imposed on them, and intellectually and politically disarmed all the time, the Serbian people has been faced with challenges too grave not to mar their spirit, which should not be overlooked at the end of this century when human mind made such enormous technological breakthroughs.”24 Further on, conclude the authors, if they aspire to the future in the family of “cultural and civilized nations of the world,” the Serbian people will have to cope with a historical and essential challenge: to “find themselves once again” and become “a historical subject.” And to attain this goals the Serbian people should “become aware again of their historical and spiritual being, and clearly recognize their economic and cultural interests” and so finally chart their “modern social and national program that would inspire present generations and those to come,” argue the authors.

In addition to defining this final goal the authors define the present situation as a state of collective “depression, marked by growingly violent manifestations of chauvinism and Serbophobia” that make this situation potentially “inflammable” and “threatening.” Finally, the authors conclude that the fact that the Serbian people do not have a state of their own like other peoples is the biggest problem, and that Serbian should openly say that the SFRY system has been imposed on it, that the Serbian people could not calmly look forward to the future against the backdrop of such uncertainty and should in no way take “a passive stance” about this matter.

This was the tone of the final instruction for the action members of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, the scholarly community and cultural circles should take: by explaining that one ideological pattern has come to an end and another has to be established, the authors say, “One stage in the development of the Yugoslav community and Serbia is evidently nearing its end with their exhausted ideology, general stagnation and growing regression in economic, political, moral and cultural spheres. Such state of affairs calls for radical, well-thought-out, scientifically founded and resolutely implemented reforms of the entire state structure…”25

The SANU Memorandum is important in the research of the interrelation between ideology and culture in Serbia in 1987-2000, above all as a document that had served as ideological initiation as was the first to explicitly formulate not only the state of affairs at the time but also outline the future as well as the manner for realization of the plan. Almost all relevant ideological patterns used in this period were based on the Memorandum draft, and were, as such, irrevocable dogmatic orienteers, proclaimed at the time of ideological preparations (until the early 1990s) and just recreated and thematically extended during the wars and until the end of the 1990s.

The Memorandum also hinted at the significance of culture and cultural identity: in a future, changed ideological picture culture was assigned the role of a predominant ideological apparat; politically and ethnically motivated crimes were committed in the name of “cultural genocide” against the Serbian people. Ideological matrixes outlined in the Memorandum were circulated, in the years to come, to all the segments of social and cultural system; grouped by the principle of semantic closeness into stereotypical notions and formations, these matrixes had a double function as nuclei of manipulative strategies: first, they were meant to reshape the reality and imbue it with a new sense, and then create like-minded masses deprived of any possibility for rational thinking, and unwilling to resist the concept of a closed society and authoritarian rule, established and maintained throughout the 1990s.

Ideological Codes as Nuclei of Manipulative Strategies

As a system established in a closed society and in the service of a predominant state apparat (including the media and educational systems), the cultural system in Serbia in the 1990s was ideologized – in all its segments – by continued and consequent creation, cultivation and distribution of stereotypical notions, formations and ideological matrixes that were the nuclei of manipulative strategies. Predominant stereotypical notions in the Serbian culture of the late 19th century, mostly manifested in collective myths and narratives, were differentiated and grouped in semantically thematic circles: the nation’s unity, messianic and uniqueness, its antiquity and heroic, martyred past, traditionalism, tendencies toward mysticism and mythmaking, and reasons behind treason (internal) and hostilities (external) as insignia of continued jeopardy, the language cult and the cult of the collective’s/people’s unquestionable superiority.

Stereotypical formations made up of combined stereotypical notions – are grouped by semantic and functional similarity into three dominant, thematically different but ideologically harmonized and mutually compatible groupings of ideological matrixes: the matrix the ideological construct of which is formulated around the thematic nucleus of the cult of the People as the popular will and legislatively superior collectivity (“the tribe in God’s grace” and “the people is everything, an individual is just in their service”) and the matrix the ideological construct of which is formulated around the thematic nucleus of culture, literature, arts and science in the service of the nation and collective, i.e. national (state) identity and integrity.

And so the stereotypical notion about a permanently threatened nation was added to a stereotypical notion about lost but imperative national unity (semantically close to the former) to form a stereotypical formation dedicated to jeopardy and unity of the nation, which, together with stereotypical notions about messianic, antiquity and, hence, unity makes up the ideological matrix surrounding the thematic nucleus of the nation that could be interpreted, in a simplified form, as follows: the nation is permanently threatened from all sides because of its undermined but immanent historical, traditional and cultural uniqueness and specificity; hence, unification is exit strategy and imperative at the same time.

Possibilities for varying, combining, semantically and functionally harmonizing ideologically created stereotypical notions and formations are almost numberless. Following the period of ideological preparations in the late 1980s (which implied engagement and participation of elites, mostly academicians and writers), this collectivistic-ethnocentric version of cultural production called for intervention in its form but also in manner of artistic expression: the establishment of the cult of the people also implied populist “adjustment” and correction of aesthetic norms; hence in the 1990s, along with predominant stereotypes, the cultural production was permeated with reduced artistic expressions, folk and populist culture, and realistic forms that, as appropriate “carriers” of patriotic and national topics, fit into the normative poetic imperative: they were close and understandable to the people and “in their service,” unlike the hermetic avant-garde, alternative or abstract art that was “useless” and hardly understandable to the people.

These two influences, the influence of “elites” that inspired and instructed the masses through the media and institutions, and the influence of performers of populist culture in which the masses were both the audience and active protagonists, were manifested in the Serbian culture of the period as mutually compatible and synergic. The culture of elites and the culture of the masses alike in Serbia in the 1990s were concentrated around the establishment and safeguard of national identity and integrity, ambivalently perceived as threatened, but also as superior. Or, as Ivan Čolović concludes rather ironically, “The demands for recognition of cultural identity, and for the safeguard of the national being or national spirituality, in the final analysis boil down to a claim for a privileged status of chose people; for, not everyone seems to be assigned with cultural identity defined as the people’s being embodied in the culture of an ethnic community. That is an exclusive gift from God, a quality reserved solely for us. Others either have no cultural identity at all or their identity is in a bad and neglected state. For instance, the Americans have no identity because they are an artistic community without true tradition, without collective memory, without a soul. What is left to the West Europeans, deep in materialism, humanism and cosmopolitanism, is a kind of sick, languid and untended identity. Finally, the Muslims and Croats are to Serbian nationalists the models of people who have betrayed their true (Serbian and Eastern Orthodox) identity and accepted Islam and Catholicism.”26

These hetero-stereotypes, deeply rooted and, as it will turn out, lasting in the Serbian culture were later on combined with auto-stereotypes, constructed by the principle of binary oppositions, which, in the final analysis, gave birth to the understanding of cultural identity and national cultural action as a necessary precondition to and warrant of the establishment of national identity, integrity, wholeness and unity. As Čolović observed, culture as a space in which national unity and energy needed for realization of political and national interests are being saved, is given a leading role. In this context he quotes an illustrative stance – the cultural-organist theory of Čedomir Mirković, literary critic and Milošević’s first minister for international cultural cooperation: “I believe that with its culture, as a driving force, a nation may be like any living being – i.e. its most vital and toughest organs are taking over the role of other organs or replace them and function in their stead. There was no opportunity for creative energy to pulsate in all domains and, therefore, many organs – from economic, banking, trading, proprietary to political – have atrophied and deformed. And since the energy of a historic nation, a historically rich nation, is indestructible, it has accumulated and manifested itself in the arts, in literature above all.”27

Such organist understanding of culture and literature as its most vital and “most functional organ” is characteristic of ideologized and closed societies. Writers in Serbia were assigned major roles in the 1980s and 1990s: they were expected to be “language priests,” “guardians of spiritual borders” and promoters of the mainstream ideological paradigm at the same time. Therefore, the role and “function” of writers is closely connected to maintenance and safeguard of “spiritual space” or “spiritual territory” and, hence, of collective and national spirit.

Almost all stereotypical notions analyzed in poems by most popular and “outstanding” Serbian writers, artists and cultural workers of the time were fully and, in a sense, officially materialized in the addresses to the Second Congress of Serbian Intellectuals held in Belgrade on April 22-23, 1994, and later on published in the collection of papers “The Serbian Question Today” (Srpsko pitanje danas) in 1995.28 Already in the opening remarks linguist Pavle Ivić argued that “history has formed a knot” and that “the future of the Serbian people as a whole” was in question, while large parts of that people were existentially threatened. “Should the outcome of ongoing developments be adverse, a sea of the Serbs would not be able to survive in centuries-old homesteads of their ancestors. At bad times as such an adverse web of circumstances would leave us all alone, exposed to hostile blows from so many sides.”29

Welcoming address by Biljana Plavšić, the then vice-president of Republika Srpska, was much more explicit about fundamental theses and priorities of the Congress; she spoke about dangerous times, the war and the Serbian people the war had split apart, and the times calling for “Serbian wisdom” in the service of vital national interests. “I hope you would be brave as our fighters at frontlines are, and would not succumb to pessimism of certain intellectuals who are unforgivably lulling the Serbian people by telling them that the time is not ripe yet for unification, these are still faraway goals, one should wait and see, and control oneself. This could leave a wrong impression about the will of the majority of the Serbian people and disappoint or fighters who are ready to die for the Serbs’ centuries-long dream to life in a single state, exercise in it their ‘sweeping’ talents and create a democratic, progressive and unique Serbian country.”30

Cultural Policy in Serbia in the 1990s as Ideological
Rationalization of the System

What earmarked culture and cultural policy in Serbia in the 1980s and 1990s was nationalism: a characteristic variance of “ideology without ideas” the regime needed badly to compensate for “rational and modern form of legitimacy” on the one hand, and to homogenize the masses on the other.31 Most indicative in this context were the warnings about “political emptiness” of nationalism and its ability to dangerously adjust itself to a variety of ideas and absorb them; this way how nationalism in Serbia, as an “ideology without ideas,” became a useful for prescribing the desirable type of collective and personal identity (always colonized by the former), forcefully homogenized and adjusted to implementation of manipulative strategies. “Politically empty nationalism was a most welcome frame to be filled by diverse ‘doctrines’ the common denominator of which was anti-liberalism (anti-individualism), anti-rationalism and anti-democracy.”32

However, when it comes to culture in Serbia in the 1990s “the notion about patriotism, its potential for “ideologically rationalize the system” and, as such, an ideological supplement to and corrective of nationalism was even more effective for “individual identification” with the collective. This was how the idea of patriotism that authentically denotes an individual stance, unlike nationalism that always functions as a collective emotion was ideologically utilized. A special form of reshaped patriotism manifested in extreme collective-patriotic sensibility was established and seated in Serbia in the late 1980s and 1990s as a predominant and unavoidable substrate of cultural-artistic-media-scientific production. At the same time presence or absence of this collective sensibility called “patriotism” was of major significance for categorization of individuals into “politically fit” or “unfit,” “loyal” or “disloyal,” “belonging” or “not belonging” to the prescribed, superior collectivity. Of course, the regime was the one to play the role of the arbiter and coordinator of collective emotion, the one that decided who was and who was not a patriot. This has always proved to be a most repressive type of ideological control over a society; and Serbia’s political society has gone through exactly this form of overt or covert repression.33

“Covert” repression was mostly generated through cultural, media and educational systems, and based on “most dissimilar irrational formulas” – the people, community, founding myths and origin as powerful manipulative instruments that, apart from “being used to cover up the true constellation of power,” always “legally” lead to “political depersonalization.”34 In this context transformation of a closed into an open society, a closed to an open culture should also be perceived as an opportunity – provided by the culture of revolt and civil disobedience – for socio-cultural-political reconstruction of a society and redefinition of its fundamental values. “These are the situations in which members of a political community are given the opportunity to redefine collective identity. Imprisoned in the political amalgam that has resisted the values of European political enlightenment for a decade, Serbia now has the opportunity to re-legitimize the project (system) that is the sum and substance of a modern, constitutional democracy.”35

An Opportunity for Deconstruction: Open vs. Closed Culture

Presence of absence of motivation (collective and individual) to accept, choose or transform a social structure is also connected with the domain of “principles and values.” It is the choice of value orientation that individual or a social group’s viewpoints and relations with their surrounding depends on: they will be either “deterministic/fatalistic depending on whether perceived from the angle of coincidence or freedom; individualistic vs. collectivistic – altruistic vs. egotistic; activist or passive; one-sided vs. multidimensional (pluralistic) understanding of the world they live in, etc.”36

It is the criterion of a radically different system of values on which the possibility to differentiate totalitarian systems from democratic depends. Established and generally accepted value systems in totalitarian systems are based on “a dependent, subjugated and sacrificed individuality abused human dignity and annulled principles of social justice.”37 In this sense, it is advisable to point out how significant and necessary it is to introduce an anthropological/cultural paradigm in understanding of the phenomenon of modern social and cultural systems, because only anthropological insight into structures of cultural systems and models makes it possible to detect “in what way and which aspects of culture have members of a certain society accepted and built into their personality structures as ‘a guide to life’.”38

The right time for resistance to creation of national and ethnic myths, repressive ideological matrixes and stigmatizing stereotypical notions, as Hobsbaum put it, it the time they have initially emerged, and the time of first attempts at ideological reshaping and identity usurpation. An open/democratic/civil society – hence, adequate, open cultural models – can be established only through annulment of prerequisites of a totalitarian/authoritarian society and overcoming a closed political system the main and only subject of which is a state apparat based on ideological (mostly nationalistic) indoctrination that annihilates individualism in the name of “the only proper” orientation – “sacrificing an individual for the benefit of a collective.”39

It is in vacillations between civic-collectivistic/nationalistic identity that the main barrier to the establishment of an open, democratic society and its compatible model of open, cosmopolitan culture based on intercultural dialogue as a predominant form of communication that implies sensitivity to differences, de-stigmatization and deconstruction of the existing stereotypes and ideological matrixes resting on value postulates of a closed society can be identified. A group of authors points at these vacillations in Serbia even after 2000.

Z. Golubović takes that “the fact that the population still vacillate between national and the newly acquired civic identity also indicates that the latter has not been sufficiently constituted yet – and that means a part of population still subjects itself to the authority of the nation, stays within the bounds of authoritarian interpretation of identity, while the other part partially crosses the border but has not yet developed all necessary attributes of civilian thinking.”40

B. Jakšić points out at populist tendencies that have been visibly renewed in the Serbian society. “Not only political parties that survived, even some of those in power, are resorting to this renewal but also the newly formed…This plus one of most influential party’s unyielding insistence on anachronous nationalism…pictures contemporary Serbia and its future in bleak colors. Serbian nationalism and populism have first brought the Serbian people and other citizens of Serbia in conflict with their neighbors, even with the entire world, and then, in those conflicts, destroyed motivational and material prerequisites for economic, political cultural and moral renewal of the society … New generations will have to work hard, patiently and for long for a so-so renewal of the state and society.”41 (Jakšić, 2004, 178)

For him, development of critical self-consciences of all citizens, and their consciousness about destructive and always potentially dangerous role nationalism and populism have played in Serbia’s culture and society are major prerequisites to transformation from a closed society and culture to open ones.42

Lino Veljak also shares this view. “Societies and states in which not even basic foundations of consensus on the necessity for a clear breakup with the past have not been established, so that they are oscillating between continuity and discontinuity, can look at visions for the region’s future, even at those moderately optimistic, as rather shaky promises.”43

Speaking of the problem of development of cultural system as an open one based on the values of a modern civil society it is obvious that everything is about “mutual” preconditions: liberation of the public sphere from the influence of the administration, constitution of a citizen as an independent and free person, constitution of a modern civil identity and the rule of law applicable to all citizens and ensuring their equal participation in public affairs, definition of human rights as fundamental social values and respect for these rights in everyday life, development of a democratic political culture, encouragement of individual and group imitativeness, development of individualism in reasoning and decision-making between various options, establishment of a critical distance from the regime and centers of power, people’s tendency towards critical assessment and the possibility for resistance in the case of usurped power, encouragement of principles and values of tolerance and respect of and interaction with different ideas.44

When it comes to the problem of continuity or inability to fully and convincingly overcome the old system and cultural model, findings of the public opinion poll on citizens’ value-orientation after 2000, conducted in 2009, are most indicative.45 They showed that “the problem of continuity is deep-rooted, while the old system mentality changes at a snail’s pace.” Most outstanding “forms of continuity” were manifest in the facts that the majority of interviewees were still prioritizing material needs, were not much interested or not interested at all in cultural needs, spoke about standards of living mostly in terms of material standards, perceived culture as luxury one could do without, “high culture” bored them, the populist culture was still entertainment they preferred, that the existence of authoritarian thinking was “the most staunch form of continuity, that the taste of the majority was still seen as a benchmark of one’s preference, that even when critical about that mass taste he or she thought that “standing by that taste” was legitimate,” and that interviewees’ nationalistic views were less explicit and aggressive than before but still evident in their stereotypical notions that used to predominate in the 1990s: the notions about superiority of the Serbian people and suspicions about the European Union, its ‘motives’ and ‘the benefits’ of ‘our accession’.”46 Finally, despite “a significant trend of understanding and adopting modern values” demonstrated by some citizens, the findings testified that the value system of the majority of interviewees was not “radically changed” since 2000. “Predominant in the majority is the traditional system combined with divine ‘values’ and resumed ‘traditional’/formal, ritual ethno-piety. Cultural institutions have not become yet ‘necessary’ and accessible to the majority of citizens, while coffee shops (as more modern pubs) the most frequented institution for relaxation, socialization and information (many interviewees said they were reading newspapers only in pubs). Despite of their sporadic criticism of turbo-folk culture, they mostly watch commercial programs, domestic and foreign TV series, and singing and dancing shows.” Accordingly Zagorka Golubović concludes that culture is still seen as a sort of escape from existence.47

Revisionism after 2000: Historical and (or) Cultural Policy

No doubt that the problem that mostly stands in the way of formulation and recognition of a new value system, as well as the adoption of a new cultural paradigm is historical revisionism incorporated in all the segments of Serbia’s historical policy since 2000. In this sense, the authors of the study “Historical Policies in Serbia after 2000” offer the examples of the hookup between historical and state-run revisionism (Milan Radaković, Center for Social Research, Alternative Cultural Organization – AKO) and point out to the fact that the attempts at having the past revised lay bare ideological and political motives based on old cultural deviations: nationalism and radical anti-communism, and the strategy for gaining political points on the correction of “historical injustices” through rehabilitation of true or alleged victims. In this way, argue the authors, the new system is provided a moral-political dimension. Through ideological revision of the past ideological matrixes of the 1990s were revitalized in 2000-16, while Serbia’s mainstream culture, as it seems, remains imprisoned in the nation’s topoi: victims, patriots/traitors, sacred territories and centuries-old foes who only want to destroy the desired, unique collective-gender-national identity.

Recent and growingly frequent cases of annihilated media and cultural alternatives (in institutional and contextual sense alike), mushrooming extremism and extremist organizations, restrictive measures the administration takes to choke or “merge” cultural institutions, annulment or establishment of awards and recognitions, and, most of all, denial of fundamental cultural rights through appointments of ideologically suitable officials, tendentious stigmatization and undermining of civic initiatives as platforms of ideological, political and cultural diversity testify that a hypothetically progressive cultural policy not only implies deconstruction of the existing ideological matrixes but also their substitution.

In Serbia, unfortunately, culture and ideology in 2016 seem to be doomed to eternal restoration and endlessly vicious circle that prevent a radical change of paradigm and obstruct an authentic breakthrough in the culture of the civil society and value systems native to it.









1 Popper, Karl, Otvoreno društvo i njegovi neprijatelji, BIGZ, Beograd, 1993.

2 Gidens, Entoni, Odbegli svet, Stubovi kulture, Beograd, 2005.

3 Konstantinović, Radomir, Filosofija palanke, Otkrovenje, Beograd, 2004.




4 Đerić, Gordana, O nemim i glasnim stereotipima, Filozofija i društvo, 1/XXVI, Institut za filozofiju i društvenu teoriju, Beograd, 2004.




5 Više o konstrukciji i dekonstrukciji dominantnih stereotipa u Srbiji od 1986,do 2000, See: Aleksandra Đurić Bosnić, Kultura nacije: između krvi i tla, Uneversity Press – Magistrat izdanja, Sarajevo, 2016.




6 Šušnjić, Đuro, Ribari ljudskih duša – ideja manipulacije i manipulacije idejama, NIP Mladost, Beograd, 1976, p. 38.




7 Pavlović, Vukašin, Politička moć, Zavod za udžbenike, Beograd, 2012.




8 Zundhausen, Holm, Istorija Srbije od 19. do 21. veka, Clio, Beograd, 2008, p. 416.




9 Ibid, p. 416.




10 All the three authors were directly involved in politics in the 1990s: Dobrica Ćosić bacame the President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Vuk Drašković was a vice-premier of the federal government, and Jovan Radulović a foreign minister of the Republika Srpska Krajina.

11 Zundhausen, Holms, Istorija Srbije od 19. Do 21. Veka, Clio, Beograd, 2008, p. 425.

12 Dragičević Šešić, Milena, Media, War and Hatred, Kultura, br. 93/94, Beograd, 1994.

13 Zundhaussen warns about scores of publications about genocide against the Serbs, especially in the Independent State of Croatia. In parallel with providing theoretical explanations of motives for the victim-nation and national suffering, mass graves dating back to WWII were constantly revealed and victims buried. This „game with the dead“ was clearly invented to fuel national tensions given that whole nations were labeled victims and villains. (Zundausen, 2009)

14 See: Kosovo 1389. do 1989, Srpski književni časopis 1989,
1-3, 51.

15 Zundhausen, Holm, Istorija Srbije od 19. do 21. veka, Clio, Beograd, 2008, p. 429.

16 Two years earlier Dobrica Ćosić demanded the Academy to have its say about the need for articulation of „collective strategic vision,“ and to integrated the knowledge it possessed into wisdom that would help solve accumulated social and national problems (Godišnjak, SANU, XC, II, 1985, Beograd 1986 / Godišnjak SANU XC, I, za 1984, Beograd 1985). The Academy session of May 24, 1985 decided to draft the Memorandum, and on June 13 a committee tasked with it was formed. Out of 16 members of he newly established scholarly body (including, among others, Pavle Ivić, Antonije Isaković, Dušan Kanazir, Mihajlo Marković, Dejan Medaković, Radovan Samardžić, Miomir Vukobratović, Vasilije Krestić, Kosta Mihailović and Stojan Ćelić) five were in high-ranking political offices: Kanazir was a minister of science and technology in 1986-1988. Interesting enough, Dobrica Ćosić was not a committee member though, as he said himself, contributed to the Memorandum with a 16-page article.“ (Zundhausen, 2009, 429) Integral text of the Memorandum was published as late as 1989 under the title „The Memorandum of a Group of Academicians of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences about the Pressing Social Issues in our Country,“ Naše teme 33/1989 I-2.




17 Draft Memorandum, 2008.

18 Ibid.




19 Ibid.




20 Ibid.




21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.




23 Ibid.




24 Ibid.




25 Ibid.




26 Čolović, Ivan, Balkan – teror kulture, ogledi o političkoj antropologiji II, Biblioteka XX vek, Beograd, 2008, p. 14.




27 Politika, January 18, 1998, Čolović, Ivan, Balkan – teror kulture, ogledi o političkoj antropologiji II, Biblioteka XX vek, Beograd, 2008




28 Interestingly, the Organization Committee of the Congress, along with more or less domestically known figures, included Milorad Vučelić and Bogoljub Karić, while the Presidency the members of cultural and scientific elites of the time: Pavle Ivić, Slavko Leovac, Dejan Medaković, Vlado Strugar… In the Committee of the Congress were, among others, Jovan Deretić, Gojko Đogo, Milorad Ekmečić, Mirko Zurovac, Pavle Ivić, Vasilije Krestić, Čedomir Popov, Dejan Medaković, Rajko Petrov Nogo, Svetozar Stijović, Brana Crnčević…

29 Ivić, Pavle, Aktuelni trenutak srpskog knjievnog jezika, u Srpsko pitanje danas (ur. Vasilije Krestić), Srpski sabor, Beograd, 1995, p. 13.




30 Plavšić, Biljana, (ed. Vasilije Krestić), Srpski sabor, Beograd, 1995, p. 17.




31 Podunavac, Milan, Srpski put u normalnost/normalnu državu, u: Između autoritarizma i demokratije – Srbija, Crna Gora, Hrvatska, civilno društvo i politička kultura, CEDEC, Beograd, 2004.

32 Ibid, p. 77.




33 Ibid, p. 78.

34 Ibid, p. 79.

35 Ibid, p. 81.




36 Golubović, Zagorka, Jarić, Isidora, Kultura i preobražaj Srbije – vrednosna usmerenja građana u promenama posle 2000-te godine, Službeni glasnik, Respublica, Beograd, 2010, p. 19.

37 Ibid., p. 19.

38 Ibid., p. 20.

39 If development of the syndrom of citizenship are still there after destruction of an authoritarian rule, says Z. Golubović, it is possible to speak about obstacles to development of the civil society. In this context, asked whether the civil society has been truly constituted after 2000 (whether civilian consciesness has replaced vassal, and critical public “the people” as an amorphous like-minded mass), she answers, “The transition process has turned up as extremely complex and often confusing” (Golubović, Autoritarno nasleđe i prepreke za razvoj civilnog društva i demokratske političke kulture, u: Između autoritarizma i demokratije, CEDEC, Beograd, 2004, p. 238)...”one of major obstacles is still “the predominant collectivistic orientation of which nationalism renewed after 2000 testifies.” (Ibid., p. 243)




40 Golubović, Zagorka, Autoritarno nasleđe i prepreke za razvoj civilnog društva i demokratske političke kulture, u: Između autoritarizma i demokratije, CEDEC, Beograd, 2004, p. 244.




41 Jakšić, Božidar, Nacionalizam/populizam vs građanska opcija u Srbiji, u: Između autoritarizma i demokratije, CEDEC, Beograd, 2004, p. 178.

42 Jakšić points out at the long tradition and deep roots of Serbian nationalistism and populist movements in Serbia that were “not invented by the repressive regime in the 2000s. What was new was that populism from a marginal phenomenon became predominant among the Serbs, Croats and in Bosnia-Herzegovina alike...That was not longer the populism of Dimitrije Ljotić and similar marginal movements, that was neither Titoist populism of ‘big celebration’ or ‘deep sorrow’ after Tito’s death but a predominant way to express frustrations, hopelessness, desperation and fear of the unceratain future, of the certain impoverishment and disappearance of the middle class. That wave of populism flooded Serbia with ‘the leader’s’ pictures, and the a torrent of hatred, planningly initiated, swept over closest neighors and the whole world.” (Jakšić, 2004, 173).

43 Veljak, Lino, Civilno društvo, raspad Jugoslavije i budućnost Jugoistočne Evrope, u: Između autoritarizma i demokratije, CEDEC, Beograd, 2004,p. 52.




44 Golubović, Zagorka, Autoritarno nasleđe i prepreke za razvoj civilnog društva i demokratske političke kulture, u: Između autoritarizma i demokratije, CEDEC, Beograd, 2004.

45 Vidi: Z. Golubović, Isidora Jarić: Kultura i preobražaj Srbije / vrednosna usmerenja građana u promenama posle 2000. godine; Službeni glasnik, Res publica, 2010.




46 Findings of the opinion poll indicate that “a part of interviewees still take that the country needs an iron hand to take it out of chaos, the stance that is also frequently implied in their views that civilian activism can change nothing.” (Golubović).

47 Ibid. p. 103.











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