Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reflection: никад више = never again = nie wieder?

The title of this post refers to a German slogan that arose after WWII: Nie wieder Fascismus, which means "never again fascism". At the memorial park in Kragujevac, we saw a monument stating something to the effect of, in Serbian, "never again a massacre like this". (Kragujevac was the site of where Nazi soldiers executed 2000+ Serbian civilians over two days in revenge for battle losses they suffered.)

But, in light of occurrences like what happened in Srebrenica, one questions how sincerely has Serbia (and other countries in the Balkans) taken this pledge to never again commit massacres of civilians? And, how guilty do they feel about such massacres?

These questions bring me to a comparison of Germany and Serbia's post-war national mindsets. First, we have to recognize that Serbia is less than 20 years removed from the Bosnian War, and just 13 years removed from the Kosovo conflict and being bombed by NATO forces. Germany is now almost 70 years past the end of WWII. Second, we have to recognize that the scales of the two military campaigns (Germany's and Serbia's) are vastly different, as are the acts committed by each side. Nevertheless, both countries are seen as largely having been "at fault" in their respective wars.

Serbian teenagers and older still remember the NATO bombing, and many harbor suspicions that the U.S. and Israel are conspiring to make Serbia a puppet territory for "the West". Teenagers' fathers and grandfathers may have fought in the Serbian army, and may still think the country was better off under Milosevic. Few Germans are still alive who lived through WWII. Post-war Germany, besides becoming an economic powerhouse, has been characterized by a pervasive sense of guilt and need for reconciliation. When I was in Germany in 2000-01, living in a student dormitory, German students would frequently want to discuss their regret and guilt over what occurred under Hitler's regime. In our brief time in Serbia, the recent wars were largely not discussed, except when it came to NATO's bombing. That is not to say that no wars were discussed at all - Serbia's military prowess against the Ottoman Turks and Austro-Hungarian forces were highlighted repeatedly.

The only time I heard a Serbian refer with a sense of regret to the recent wars was in our discussion with an English class at the university. I can't remember exactly what the context was, but I think a student had asked us what we thought of Serbia, given the atrocities that occurred in the Bosnian war. His using of the word "atrocities" stood out to me, since it implicitly acknowledges shame or regret for what happened.

A more macro-level difference in the two countries' mindsets has to do with nationalism. For most of the time since WWII, nationalism in Germany was frowned upon and usually associated with neo-Nazi movements. From what I saw, it wasn't until hosting the 2006 World Cup, and Germany's successful run to 3rd place in it, that Germans were encouraged to be proud of their country, and could fly German flags without guilt. Serbians, however, have no qualms about displaying their national pride. (In fact, a Serbian would probably read that last sentence and ask "Why should we have qualms?) In a continent where European unity and Western ideals are strived for, Serbia has stubbornly resisted these pressures, in contrast with Germany, who has been a strong proponent of the E.U. and the U.S. From what I've read and experienced, this strong sense of national pride comes from the combination of the Serbian orthodox church (84% of the country is Orthodox), and Serbia's long history of military battles with neighboring powers.

But, as the EU becomes increasingly important and powerful in the world, will Serbia revolt and stay centered in itself, or evolve and find its place in a unified Europe? Or, develop a recognition that one can still be proud of being Serbian, but not proud of all everything that Serbia has done, yet still maintain national pride and work together with Europe without compromising its hard-fought-for ideals?

1 comment:

  1. Wow -- thanks, Scott. I was just getting on to blog something similar, and will perhaps add it later, but this is very eloquent.