Grenades and apples

By: Miloš Vukanović

Analyzing all the movements that led to the necessary change of government at the 2020 elections, one narrative that was peripheral at the time, but involved enough to exert a slight influence on the electorate, became increasingly noticeable. Given that the elections were decided by the difference of only tens of thousands of votes, this narrative also had a projected purpose in Montenegro’s game of small numbers.

In political history, it is a well-known practice that for the purpose of political opportunism, all current phenomena are presented equally bad, regardless of the consequences they may have. As the party that represented this principle is currently in power and does not hesitate to implement controversial politics regardless of the consequences, this narrative has also been intensified.

Although the premise of the harmfulness of the emergence of all extremist ideas in society is understandable and acceptable to me, and I have written about this issue many times, thoroughly and tendentious promoting the story of two identical national extremes, if viewed objectively, it can have only a political purpose, but also serious and far-reaching negative consequences for the whole Montenegrin society.

Construction errors

It is not easy to answer all the theses that are distributed with an objective. As an introduction, an article should be mentioned, from 2012, where the sociologist Bojan Baća for the first time equalizes Montenegrin, and as I recall, Greater Serbian nationalism (I apologize to the author if I wrongly quoted and interpreted it since I have not been able to find the article again). Over time, there was a certain development, so the aforementioned sociologist understood that there is no difference between Serbian and Greater Serbian nationalism, but the tendency of illogical and, from my point of view, unfounded equalization, continued.

The first symptom of relativization from equalization we see in the thesis that “Serbian nationalism recognizes itself” while Montenegrin nationalism is blissfully superficial. This is where we enter the field of relativization. According to the author, one has a benign aspect of self-knowledge, while the other negatively dared not to identify himself with the aforementioned, because he did not leave behind even the premise of destroyed cities, mass graves, and bodies in cold storages, systematic rape, exodus…

Further, the sociologist concludes that extremist phenomena among Montenegrins are the product of decades of the pressure of Serbian nationalism. However, neither he, nor the followers of this thought, look at the cause, but equate that cause with, according to them, potential parallel consequences. There is the following effort to confirm the thesis by defining Montenegrin nationalism through the definition of “asymptomatic nationalism”, that is, nationalism that produces all the political consequences like other nationalisms, although it does not have all their visible features.

This is where we come to fundamental illogicality, strained interpretations and signs of relativization. According to the definition, the Montenegrin version of “asymptomatic nationalism” should produce all the political consequences like others. Even if we skip the grotesque relativization that the fundamentals of state policy of Serbia and the acting of “pro-Serbian” parties in Montenegro are based on the denial of Montenegrin and Bosniak/Muslim identity and glorifying war criminals, it is essentially the same perceived excess in speech, the key aspect is additionally skipped here. The fact that every time an extremist excess occurs in the “pro-Montenegrin” political bloc, it is collectively condemned and stigmatized, and that precisely this political bloc stands as a barrier to the spreading of negative trends among Montenegrins. On the other hand, probably due to the bliss of self-realization, by denying crimes, calling on war comrades to dig up weapons, putting log barricades, as well as glorifying aggression against Ukraine, such excesses are acceptable and supported not only by “pro-Serbian” political bloc but also by supporters of the “third-way” party URA.

Searching for evidence where there is none

In a recent author’s text, the editor of Vijesti cites examples that he considers to be a symptom of Montenegrin nationalism. The irony is that a text that talks about nationalism creates a list of names of political and ideological opponents represents a misunderstanding of such an act, or deliberates mimicry of the same lists from the 90s, 50s, 40s, 30s and so on.

Skipping almost a year of blockade of the Montenegrin social system due to the clero-nationalist movement, which was characterized by sociologists outside Montenegro as a textbook example of an artificially created movement of radical nationalism, with all the iconography of Gazimestan, and resulted in the first formation of the Government in a monastery since the 12th century, the author additionally demonizes (after Belvedere) one public gathering in September 2020. While fully agreeing with the condemnation of the use of the mentioned terminology, I do not agree with the manipulation that these terms have become the norm of speech, except for almost all political representatives of the former parliamentary majority. If for someone the term “traitor” is an excess, and for another a political programme, it is difficult to put a sign of equality there.

Additionally, a thesis is imposed that there is no criticism of extremist phenomena among national Montenegrins, which is not true because the author of this text has repeatedly criticized them. What does not exist is criticism of Serbian nationalism on the pages of Vijesti, which I experienced myself through the censorship of critical attitudes towards the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC). Additionally, and once again, clerical interpretation of state and nation for more than three decades is an integral part of only one nationalism, while in others, it appeared for a short time and due to internal resistance and disappeared.

The question arises: is it extremism when all opponents of the enthronement in Cetinje are called extremists or criminals? On 5 September, there were various groups in Cetinje, which included leftists and anarchists, former anti-war activists and extreme secularists, with the right to protest against the attack on the national and anti-war heritage that the SOC despises so much. Let’s not forget, because of the aforementioned characterizations of Belvedere protests, it was the current Prime Minister Dritan Abazović who apologized, but that obviously does not fit into the continuation of this story for many.

Unwanted heritage

The whole thesis about two nationalisms is based on equalizing, from a sociological and political perspective, on one hand, the expected deviant phenomena, present in all political, national and religious communities, with the fundamental expansionist policy of conquest and massacres that is active for 34 years. So, peripheral and ubiquitous national populism, synthesized in posts from social media, is equated with the politics that led to Vukovar, Dubrovnik, Foča, Višegrad, Prijedor, Seige of Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Suva Reka, etc… still strongly present today.

Not only extreme but also morbid ideological attitudes of Serbian nationalism, which are absolutely absent in others, are ignored. Additional to the negation of Montenegrins and Bosniaks/Muslims, the desire to persecute one and a half million Albanians and the will for a new confrontation with the Croats, the dominance of the legacy of Nikolaj Velimirović, which has been spreading unhindered for decades across Montenegro, is being ignored.

This is the legacy that inspired Amfilohije Radović’s views on Montenegrins (and to award a medal to Vojislav Šešelj), Atanasije Jevtić’s attitude on Muslims and Karadžić, and which, in a much more sublime way, shaped Joanikije Mićović’s positions.

For readers who are not familiar, Nikolaj Velimirović is the ideological father of the current version of Svetosavlje, who, in pauses of glorifying Adolf Hitler and anti-Semitic outbursts, created the idea of nationalism based on the medieval perception of religion and nation. If you wondered where the preamble in the recently adopted Fundamental Agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church came from, now you have the answer.

Posts from social media, which at no point in time have not even become an approximate part of the official policy of any subject, are equated with politics that require either assimilation or destruction of the cultural heritage of Montenegro.

Shortly, instead that the effort against national populism is one of the ways to fight negative trends in our society, equating these theses with the official state policy of the neighbour that over and over again is destabilizing the region, to put it mildly, is promoting irresponsibility.

How we got here?

After 2006, we had a constructive error where everything in the state was subordinated to the party and the interest of the initial accumulation of capital. Even today, most of the social problems are in its essential the consequence of the bad management of almost all parts of society since then.

However, it should not be ignored that the movement that was created for the purpose of democratic change of government had a constructive error. Ignoring the Serbian nationalism, which runs wild in Montenegro since 1988, toleration and flirtation with it, absence of criticism and, finally, its very integration into the political movement, led us to the situation where this very nationalism, led by the SOC, represents a tool for destabilization by the official Belgrade.

The far-fetched story of two nationalisms is a transparent political justification for the mistake of entering into such a marriage. In addition, one want to mask the fact that such flirting with Serbian nationalism did nothing but weakened the civil movement in Montenegro. The GP URA is also responsible for that.

One of the most obvious examples was in relation to the difficult legacy of the 90s. While during the litia walks one could hear that the events of the 90s were exclusively attributed to the DPS, the ideology that pushed us into the war was deliberately skipped, currently and primarily lives with the church and a large number of political entities that supported the litia. Members of the so-called third stream a warning light could have turned on when, in the first days of the Russian attack on Ukraine was a relativization of the act itself by the SOC, but that did not seem to happen.

What is the point?

This type of equalization with the aim to promote the “third way” essentially relativizes the extreme views and crimes of Serbian nationalism, identifying it with examples of verbal excess, and the potential concept of further flare-ups of something difficult to determine that exists. For example, a situation when a citizen of Cetinje insulted the prime minister in a primitive and base manner for national and religious reasons, is equated with the systematic spread of the idea of the spiritual leader of Milojko Spajić, that all Muslims “smell of tallow” and the columns of winners singing while driving around Pljevlja that believers of Muslim faith should be packing and leaving that city.

The civic concept means resistance to all extremism in society, not silence for the purpose of political opportunism. That is why, for example, the introduction of Sešeljev’s nationalist narrative into the Montenegrin public discourse through the unscientific wording of the preamble of the Fundamental Agreement with the SOC, must not be accepted either.

If we were to go into a deeper analysis, there are no differences between the attempts to demonize Montenegrins in the defence efforts against Serbian nationalism, with all positive and negative aspects, and the violent perception that Putin built towards Ukrainians. Yes, 2% of Ukrainians indeed supported neo-Nazis after the Russian aggression in 2014, but that is not enough to argue that all Ukrainians are Nazis.

Finally, all attempts to equalize these categories that are far from equal should be answered with arguments and no excesses, no matter what irritation it may induce because that would reduce the sharpness of the few civic streams that continuously fight. It would also create the conditions for any criticism of the self-proclaimed “third way” to be classified as one of nationalism.

And, no – this is not mixing apples and oranges, this is mixing grenades and apples.

The author is a historian and advisor at the Centre for Civic Education (CCE).