Nomen est omen

ANALYSIS  Branka Ćurčić Published: 22. 09. 2022.

The end of peace politics in an endless war

What should we do with the politics of peace, which is no longer a matter of neither state politics nor the politics on the side of the people?

No army and no police force can defeat the will of the people who are determined to oppose violence’, is the sentence that was uttered at the meeting on the occasion of commemorating thirty years of anti-war resistance in Vojvodina and Serbia during the war in the former Yugoslavia – the organized resistance of the man and women to forced mobilization, that is, on the occasion of the establishment of the Spiritual Republic of Zicer in Trešnjevac. The unequivocal resolve for peace and the refusal to participate in the war resulted in the mobilization being halted and that none of the residents of this small town in Vojvodina, as well as the surrounding ones, lost their lives by going to war. Determination seems to have been the key. But it is the same today, because with every action that people undertake in an organized manner, a space is invented that is absolutely different and separate from the state’s war politics, and that space is a place in subjectivity. That is the decision we are talking about here.

State politics has long ceased to be a support of peace politics. But is it an armed resistance?

Today, during the war in Ukraine, people are also determined to oppose Russia’s armed aggression. But this time they are doing it by taking up arms, joining the Ukrainian, state, defensive military formations; although at the beginning of this war we could see barehanded Ukrainians standing resolutely in front of Russian tanks, preventing them from conquering their cities. Participation in the armed struggle was also seen as national resistance, and perhaps it is precisely the fact that it is national which does not necessarily equate this struggle with the politics of the state, which for us has long been a war politics separated from the people. State politics has long ceased to be a support of peace politics. But is it an armed resistance?

What needs to be done is acknowledging each situation its singular character, and for each proposal and action of people its intellectuality. That is, it’s equally important to look at what people’s proposal for peace was during the organized anti-war movement, as well as what people are doing today by organizing themselves into armed resistance to war. That approach is far more honest than the irresponsible transposition of abstract pacifism, especially today when there is no global and organized anti-war resistance, but only armed and national one. The question which preoccupied me was whether these people have their own politics, both those who advocated for peace in Vojvodina and those who participate in the armed resistance today, and what that politics is? However, I can’t help but wonder what happened to the politics of peace and why it is clearly not organized, and perhaps not even relevant.

Without borders, territory, property

One of the slogans of the Spiritual Republic Zicer was ‘without borders, territory, property’, and as the people who established it say today, they’ve come up with a space that ensures a peaceful conscience in time of war conflicts and violence against civilians. Their goal was to resist the forced mobilization of men who were recruited for the war in Croatia, and as their success they see the fact that because of their organized anti-war struggle, not a single man from this part of Vojvodina died in the war. They proclaimed a republic, but a republic that was a space of conscience, that was a spiritual as well as an organized space of resistance to mobilization and militarism. Although their republic had its own constitution, rotating leadership, even an anthem, so therefore it could be said that it was a copy of the state organization, it was not. The idea to declare a republic is precisely a reaction to the establishment of new states by the destruction of Yugoslavia during the war and to the struggle for ethnically pure territories of the already declared independent states and their paramilitary formations. The Spiritual Republic Zicer worked on a completely different principle of territorialization; it was a spiritual ‘territory’ of peace completely separate from the war politics of the state and, in that sense, it was a republic established on the side of the people and on the side of civil peace. Can we claim that it also represented politics on the side of the people?

There is a fundamental difference between referendums organized by the state and referendums organized by the people when they want to legitimize and (institutionally) establish their decision.

It is important to note that this spiritual republic was not a lone example of anti-war resistance in Vojvodina. It was preceded by peaceful demonstrations in Senta and Ada, also against war and forced mobilization, and part of that rebellion was the convening of local, municipal referendums where people declared whether they wanted to go to war or not. As legal instruments of direct participation of people in decision-making, referendums were often abused by warlords in the former Yugoslavia. They did it only to get the legitimacy of the people to separate the territories that will belong to the newly formed states, and it always went together with violence being the primary instrument. Just as is the case today with Crimea and Donbass, where referendums are taking place under Russian pressure for the secession of Ukrainian territories, which, if they are not annexed to the Russian Federation in the future, will become the area of legitimized’ Russian presence and control. Therefore I consider referendums organized by the state to be part of its war politics, and as experience shows us, it is the same in peacetime circumstances. This, among other things, reflects the essentially war nature of the politics of power towards the people – power excludes people, does not take them all into account and manipulates the logic of inclusion, demands their vote only when it needs it (in elections), and today we can see that it is ready to sacrifice them in armed conflicts. This negative inclusion, that is, the denial of people’s rights, Sylvain Lazarus today calls a separate state. There is a fundamental difference between referendums organized by the state and referendums organized by the people when they want to legitimize and (institutionally) establish their decision. In the case of the anti-war resistance in Vojvodina, that decision was unequivocally at the core of the fight for peace and resistance to the state’s war politics.

Let us return to the question of such politics of peace as politics on the side of the people. Was it indeed on the side of the people? What was the place of that politics, if I say that its name was the politics of peace? Although in the case of the spiritual republic, hundreds of men and women gathered daily and stayed, lived and acted in the premises of the Zicer pizzeria, the place of that politics in terms of the crystallization and organization of politics, decisions and proposals they presented and which were massively accepted, I consider to be not physical locality but the network of anti-war resistance which was established at that time. Deserters, conscientious objectors, mothers, women, activists and civil society organizations from all over the country and by that I mean not only Serbia but also whole Yugoslavia, unitedly carried out politics of peace which was possible for them. At the time, people led and subjectively thought politics of peace, which not only did not have support in the state, but it also invented its own space of inspiration and affirmation in relation to the clear war politics of the state.

Borders, territory, property

What is happening today on the side of the people in Ukraine is no longer a decision related to peace, neither politics of peace nor an organization established around such a proposal. I would say that just the opposite is at work – people organize themselves into armed resistance and join the state defense forces, and because of this, that resistance acquires the characteristic of nacionalitary1. What is their attitude towards the state and its dispositives such as territory, borders and then the national character of that fight?

Today, Ukrainians defend the territorial integrity of the state, its borders, they defend themselves against aggression and, in a certain sense, against the peace imposed on them by the Russian state. In the past, before the new wars that started in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and which were led by state elites with criminal organizations against the civilians, wars were interstate and the winning side had the mandate to put pressure on the defeated to accept its conditions for ending armed conflicts, that is, its terms of peace. Putin may have played with this invasion in a Cold War manner, wanting to impose his terms of peace, but what makes his intervention one of a new war is the force he uses against the people and with which he destroys the civilian infrastructure of Ukrainian cities, which is not only military, but also paramilitary (paramilitary formations that operated in Syria and many other places in the world have operated in Donbass as well). Today, the goal of war is no longer peace. For some time now, we have been living in a time of war without peace, that is, in a time of endless war. What’s in effect today is that even the people in Ukraine no longer want peace, but, as they say, victory in this war.

The response of the Ukrainians to this situation is not, as I said before, the idea of peace, but nacionalitary armed resistance. Given that we are in a time when politics on the side of the people no longer exists, as we have seen for ourselves, and that the political space is reduced to the politics of the state and power, to parties and elections, perhaps it’s illusory to ask the question of whether the people who provide resistance in Ukraine have their own politics (and especially ask the question as to why they don’t have politics of peace). However, their resistance as well as the decision to oppose the aggression with armed means is strong, even though, in my opinion, it takes place entirely in the space of the (defense) politics of the state. The slogan ‘Glory to Ukraine’ is not reserved only for state and military officials, but is shared by everyone: both those Ukrainians who are fighting and those who fled the war to other countries. Perhaps what we should see in that resistance is also resistance to the main argument of the Russian war politics, which, although unjustified, considers all Ukrainians to be nationalists and even Nazis. The effort to preserve the territorial integrity of the country, which they consider independent, and that means not susceptible to Russian influence, which extends from corruption and crime to armed aggression, should perhaps be seen as a politics of nacionalitary resistance, which is neither nationalism nor Nazism. Therefore, the Russian demand for the denazification of Ukraine is meaningless. But the question remains as to how much this armed resistance is really politics on the side of the people.

Perhaps this is happening precisely because of the endless war which no longer has peace as its goal, and which is grounded in the politics of the state as the only place of politics which permeates the entire political space today.

And finally, what should we do with the idea and politics of peace, which in the endless war is no longer a matter of the state’s politics or that on the side of the people? We often hear ‘no war’ exclamations from Ukrainians, as well as from many Russians, Belarusians, and even a few of us in Serbia. We are receiving scant information about the fact that mothers in Donbas are protesting against the mobilization of their sons and husbands in the Russian army, or those insufficiently trained sent by the Ukrainian army to the front lines. But those protests remain sporadic events which the state’s war and resistance politics uses to manipulate and accuse the opposing side of instrumentalizing people. The idea and politics of peace is failing to break through. We can have our peace beliefs which are individual, but today there is no organized action by which we would decisively advocate and lead the politics of peace and which would be widely accepted. Perhaps this is happening precisely because of the endless war which no longer has peace as its goal, and which is grounded in the politics of the state as the only place of politics which permeates the entire political space today.

1Nacionalitary (fr. nationalitaire) is an expression I borrow from Felix Guattari, who uses it to avoid any negative connotation of the national as nationalistic; ‘The Three Ecologies”, The Athlone Press, London, 2000, translation: Ian Pindar and Pol Sutton.

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