Nomen est omen

ANALYSIS  Branislav Dimitrijević Published: 28. 06. 2023.

Territory and Taboo

On the constants of Serbian politics towards Kosovo

The only acceptable solution for Serbia and the Serbian people is the full reintegration of the territory of Kosovo into the constitutional and legal order of Serbia.’ Not only the summary of the declaration on Kosovo that was recently made by the group of ’patriotic intellectuals’ in charge of these affairs reads like this, but it is also the summary of Serbian politics towards Kosovo from the moment when the Socialist Republic of Serbia abolished the autonomy of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo on March 23, 1989 and established there mechanisms of police and institutional terror. Five days later, police terror already resulted in the liquidation of 25 demonstrators and the arrest of over a thousand people of Albanian nationality. Institutional terror began by forcing university teachers to sign a declaration of loyalty to Milošević’s state, then banning access to the university to those who did not sign it, and by 1991 it was transferred to the entire education system, in which at that time there was no longer a single member of the Albanian nationality who worked in it. The official language in Kosovo became only Serbian, media in Albanian were no longer financed from the budget but were banned, and it is estimated that by the beginning of the nineties, around 70% of Albanians in Kosovo had already been fired from their jobs. At that moment, Kosovo is actually already starting to separate from the constitutional and legal order of Serbia, and not immediately with an armed uprising, but with the gradual building of parallel institutions with which the process of establishing Kosovo’s statehood will begin. All these events are practically unknown to the Serbian public, or it simply does not want to know about them. But be that as it may, by abolishing the autonomy of Kosovo, Serbia actually took the first step towards the overthrow of the constitutional order of the SFRY, which afterwards other federal units with their secessionist politics will do as well. Therefore the first thesis we would like to note here is that the abolition of the autonomy of Kosovo is the first constitutional-legal act that led to the process of disintegration of Yugoslavia. That process, which is one of the standards of ’Serbian politics’, was hidden behind a discourse that claimed something completely the opposite – that ’Serbian politics’ is the politics of preserving the Yugoslav federation. Of course, no one other than the Serbian side of that federation believed in such a discourse anymore.

In the aforementioned declaration by the patriotic intellectuals, the Albanian majority in Kosovo is therefore offered exactly what was taken away from them in 1989. Most paradoxically, it implies that the Albanian population, after more than thirty years of struggle for independence, today could accept such a thing. The fact that something like this will not happen signatories of the declaration themselves know very well, who are as unprepared for war as they are unprepared for peace, therefore of course we do not read their act as an expression of politics, but rather as a continuation of the nearly two-century-old determination of the state of Serbia for one territorial pretension to be passed off through mythical and phantasmagoric means. Hence, the political wing of those patriotic intellectuals announced the submission of another new declaration in the Assembly, and it was named ’Declaration on the Protection of Freedom of Thought and Speech and the Fight of Patriotic Intellectuals for the Truth.’ This kind of musealization of something that stands in the place of politics, the self-proclamation of that ’politics’ as some endangered natural species or endangered cultural heritage, is a sufficient indicator of self-awareness of the futility of this position, for which politics has nothing to do with the people, and especially not with the people who live in Kosovo and who in the future are projected exclusively as those who could sacrifice their lives for such a politics, that is, its absence.

How to understand such a paradoxical basis of the politics of a nation-state that would supposedly integrate the members of another nation other than as a denial of the full ’humanity’ of the members of that nation, which is, after all, the core of every known racist discourse.

After all, what has been a constant of ’Serbian politics’ towards Kosovo since the 19th century onwards is that Kosovo is simply and exclusively a territory that by force of medieval statehood and religion belongs to the ’modern state of Serbia’ to which Kosovo was finally annexed during the Balkan wars of 1912-1913. In that narrative, the Albanians are not only illegitimate usurpers of that territory, but they are generally designated as a tribal community at a lower level of civilization, which is even mentioned by Dimitrije Tucović himself, who in the book Serbia and Albania (1914) concludes that they ’culturally stood below their neighbors, and even Montenegrins’ (sic!).1 If the author of the ’criticism of the oppressive policy of the Serbian bourgeoisie’ also manifested latent racist attitude towards Albanians, then it is not difficult to imagine the ’discourse’ of those whom Tucović criticized – after all, that discourse is one of the continuity of the ’Serbian politics’ towards Kosovo. The famous military decision to withdraw the Serbian army through Albania during the First World War, probably the most tragic event in Serbian history, testifies to how disastrous such a relationship was for the Serbian people themselves. Even in the time of socialism, it was not possible to consider the circumstances of this Golgotha, as when, for example, there was an uproar in the Central Committee of the Union of Communists of Serbia when Politika in 1965 began to publish the war diary of Tucović’s close associate Professor Miloš Trebinjac, the commander of an artillery brigade. In that diary, the question of the Serbian side’s expectation was raised and whether they will pass through Albania unhindered as if it were either a territory inhabited by friendly people or a rather a territory without features where people don’t even exist. In his diary, Trebinjac asks the question: ’Could anyone have placed so much hope in Arnauts to give us the food supplies after everything we have indebted them for? Has that beautiful folk saying been forgotten: For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind?’2 Of course, Trebinjac alludes to the crimes against the Albanian population during the Balkan wars, which were unknown to the Serbian public then as they are now, and also not even to those unfortunate people who were sent to pass through the ’terrible Albanian gorges’.

From this follows the second thesis which we will note here, that for the Serbian state-building politics Albanians actually do not exist. Not only do they not exist as political subjects, but the assumption of full reintegration of the territory is that the existence of Albanians in Kosovo is either some kind of historical coincidence which can be corrected (for example by throwing over the Prokletije mountains, as Šešelj proposed), or that their ’civilization backwardness’ does not even make them human in the full sense of the word. How to understand such a paradoxical basis of the politics of a nation-state that would supposedly integrate the members of another nation other than as a denial of the full ’humanity’ of the members of that nation, which is, after all, the core of every known racist discourse. The ’patriotic’ proposal on the reintegration of the territory into the constitutional and legal order of Serbia never actually includes the Kosovo inhabitants of Albanian nationality, because then the consequence of recognizing that Albanians still exist would imply not only the reintegration of the territory but also the reintegration of the population, which would then make up a quarter of the population of such a reintegrated Serbia. The consequences of this for the state of Serbia itself (that is, the reintegration of the population, which turned out not to be as friendly towards that state) would lead to Albanians participating in the institutional system of the Republic of Serbia. But patriotic intellectuals do not take this into account or mention it either, because for them Albanians are not a political subject anyway.

The permanent threat over its own population is the last stage of the wars of the 1990s and is the main reason why war cries still exist because, in fact, the final reckoning of the Serbian state with its own population has not yet taken place in the full sense of the word.

Also, what is common in Serbian politics towards the Albanians is the constant avoidance of any dialogue with them except the one imposed by force of the international community – so then one gets the impression that the international community is the one that conducts politics on behalf of the Albanians and directs them, because, let’s repeat, they are not a political subject. At the end of the 19th century, the then Serbian consul in Priština, writer Branislav Nušić, pointed this out: ’The Arnauts are an element related to us and we are the ones most invited to get closer to them, while we it seems, of all those who are in any kind of contact with them, remain the furthest away’.3 In the same report, Nušić concludes that this very thing will ’turn out to be a fatal mistake’. Just as trust in one’s own propaganda endangered the Serbian army in retreating through Albania, so too the propaganda about the politically non-existent Albanian caused the state of Serbia to exclusively obey the imposed solutions of the international community, and at this moment when the independence of Kosovo is in question, it is reduced to fait accompli. Just the same as the Serbian exodus followed the rejection of the plan that would have established autonomy for Serbs in Croatia (the Z-4 plan), instead of abolition of the autonomy of Kosovo and the dialogue on the regulation of that autonomy, ’Serbian politics’ is now faced with the fact that the only ones still mentioning that autonomy are the Serbian patriotic intellectuals.

Thinking about Kosovo which is not in accordance with the politics of ’full reintegration of the territory’ (preferably without people on it) is actually presented in Serbian society as impossible to think and express, and few even try to express it because it would be a dangerous transgression of taboos, although no legal punishment has been set for it (yet).

According to the ’speech act theory’, every utterance performs three acts: locutionary (the act of uttering words itself), illocutionary (act performed by the speaker by uttering words) and perlocutionary (act that occurs as a result of the utterance). If every problem is always a discursive problem (the characteristic of every problem is always the impossibility of talking about it), then the constant of Serbian politics is actually a cleavage which occurs between the locutionary and perlocutionary acts in political speech. In the absence of new perlocutionary consequences (because they are already behind us and number tens of thousands of victims of the wars of the nineties), the Serbian discourse on Kosovo is exclusively focused on disciplining and subjugation the Serbian population within the Serbian state. It actually has no other function or meaning. The permanent threat over its own population is the last stage of the wars of the 1990s and is the main reason why war cries still exist because, in fact, the final reckoning of the Serbian state with its own population has not yet taken place in the full sense of the word. At this moment, it is much easier to imagine violence against political dissidents in Serbia (after all, that is what ’people’s patrols’ and similar paramilitary formations were created for – and not for some future war with hostile neighbors) than a military conflict with Albanians. The only successful political project of the state of Serbia in the last 40 years was the creation of the public, with the help of which all previous powers in Serbia ever since 1987 have self-legitimized. The mantra that no one will ever recognize the independence of Kosovo on behalf of Serbia is a form of political blackmail with the help of which every power in Serbia is ensured. So the third thesis of this text would be that today Kosovo is nothing but the name of the power in Serbia.4 In the political sense, the recognition of Kosovo is an act of national betrayal, and in the anthropological sense, it is a social taboo.

Therefore, apart from the principle of a territory without people, another principle on which the constants of Serbian politics towards Kosovo are based cannot be expressed in any other way than by referring to the anthropological concept of taboo, which also served Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, especially for his analysis of ’obsessional patients’. Thinking about Kosovo which is not in accordance with the politics of ’full reintegration of the territory’ (preferably without people on it) is actually presented in Serbian society as impossible to think and express, and few even try to express it because it would be a dangerous transgression of taboos, although no legal punishment has been set for it (yet). In his seminal although controversial discussion about this term, for a taboo as an enforced prohibition of thinking and speech, some kind of immediate threat of punishment is actually superfluous because ’for there is an internal certainty, a moral conviction, that any violation will lead to intolerable disaster’, and above all that ’some particular person in his environment will be injured as a result of the violation’. Taboo restrictions are not religious and moral prohibitions, but are prohibitions in themselves, says Freud, and what distinguishes them from moral prohibitions is their lack of explanation, but their self-explanatory comprehensibility, which would also be one of the definitions of ideology in the Althusserian key. Hence, the concepts of taboo and ideology are quite related. Since there is no threat of legal punishment for the tort of opinion about the recognition or any kind of acceptance of the independence of Kosovo, another kind of threat is how we know it’s a question of taboo. Freud says: ’Anyone who has violated a taboo becomes a taboo himself because he possesses the dangerous quality of tempting others to follow his example: why should he be allowed to do what is forbidden to others? Thus he is truly contagious in that every example encourages imitations, and for that reason he himself must be shunned’.5 But, according to Freud, violating the taboo is actually possible for someone who has already become a taboo, and that is first of all a king or a chief. The chief is allowed the desire of violating the taboo because he himself is already taboo.

Hence, the politics of recognizing Kosovo can only become possible if the leader (who is already a taboo) violates that taboo, and hence the chief is already allowed what others are not allowed – for example, to hold a dialogue with the Kosovar Albanians at all, because the very act of that dialogue with the chief of another tribe, he recognizes the existence of that tribe. Hence, the Serbian nation finds itself in a situation where it must not touch anything (for example, the Serbs living in Kosovo, who until a few days ago worked for Kosovo institutions, except at work and in shops, practically do not come into social contact with Albanians) until the chief himself violates the ban in one way or another. Will we wake up one day and hear on the chief’s media that Kosovo is actually independent, I doubt it. The taboo will continue to be maintained because it is a condition of power. But since ultimately others are also interested in the territory, and they like to see their territory as ethnically purged, Kosovo may one day not be just one (the one that is Serbia) but two – the Albanian one and the Serbian one. Therefore, it is likely we will see some kind of territorial distribution between Serbs and Albanians because the conflict in Kosovo will not end until both sides declare victory. Albanian side has already declared victory and now we are waiting on the Serbian chief to somehow find a way to do it by breaking the taboo restrictions but also maintaining that very same taboo for the citizens of Serbia.

1 Dimitrije Tucović, Serbia i ArbanijaJedan prilog kritici zavojevačke politike srpske buržuazije, Belgrade, 1914. & Serbia and AlbaniaA critical contribution to the oppressive policy of the Serbian bourgeoisie, Tirana, 2021.

2 Cited in: Petrit Imami, Srbi i Albanci kroz vekove (Serbs and Albanians through centuries), Belgrade, 1998, p. 119-120.

3 Ibid, p. 78.

4 A similar thesis has already been elaborated in detail by Branka Ćurčić in the text ‘Kosovo is the heart of Serbia’s power’,

5 Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, London and New York, 1950, p. 38.

The text was published in the Bulletin TENANT #16&17, autumn 2022.

Illustration: Overlay of the image of the rally in Gazimestan in 1989 and the image of a children’s sweatshirt found during the exhumation of corpses from a mass grave in Batajnica.

English translation: Ivana Purtić

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