The current Balkan mess is to a large extent the result of frivolous chauvinistic ideas, which were thought up and offered to the public by Serbian academicians of dubious provenance. These were the people who de-universalised thought, art and creativity, reducing them to narrow, nationalistic and personal nihilism, causing a conflict of selfish interests and expecting that their superhuman power would decide the outcome of this clash in their favour. It turned out, however, that they counted their chickens before they were hatched. In the war of interests that ensued, everyone came out the loser. In view of the recent tragedy, it is quite clear that nihilistic ideals, and the conduct based on them, can only lead to catastrophe which far exceeds the darkest expectations. It is therefore time to reverse the course of events in the Balkans, to pull them out of the circle of conflicts and games of various power-mongers and formulate a new dimension of relations built on understanding and dialogue. What these academicians, these conservative, chauvinistically oriented intellectuals of the old school, cooked up must not only be liberated by us, cultivated outcasts of the “new age”, but also we must transcend it and step out of the circle of basic premises that made this carnage possible. As thinkers, we must offer an alternative that will enable, among all those implicated, the setting up of an area of respect and harmony of differences; an area that will not stand on hollow expectations and utopia, but rather, on those creative points of reference that already exist in the Balkans.
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What is the meaning of the expression, the Balkans? It means something like an endless green forest or a mountainous country overgrown by a boundless blanket of trees. This was at least the case at the time of the first incursions of the Ottoman Turks into this region. Originally a Turkish word, that means nothing bad. On the contrary. Deep, dark forests sprawling as far as the eye can see, elicit cosmic feelings in a person gazing at them from some lofty peak. Even though in those days, the forest had a different effect on a conqueror who had to struggle to make his way through it. Endless forests presented a difficult obstacle to advancing through the heart of mountainous regions, criss-crossed by deep ravines and wild rivers. The situation was similar to that on the north-western fringe of the peninsula in the Roman times, where on the military road of the Emperor Augustus, at Hrušica (Ad Pirum) and Trojane (Atrans) Roman legions fearfully advanced from Aquileia towards Pannonia (Caruntumom) and further eastward. Today this route is called European Corridor No. 5. But when the Turks arrived, they were not unprepared and ignorant. They knew where they were going – on to Venice and Vienna. And they followed the migration routes of the past. They were neither the first nor the last to come rolling across the mysterious regions. There were many who came before them. Their fate drove them to explore or conquer, so they followed the rivers upstream, deep into the heart of dark ridges. High above the valley floor rose rock faced mountains, providing a grandiose backdrop to the events that shaped history. Inaccessible slopes, overgrown by centenarian trees, provided the stage where was born the history of the world to which we belong. The western world is fatefully marked by the events that took place in the region of “the Balkans”. Although today the term Balkan is the symbol of cruelty, disorder, “the chthonic”, the non-good and primary evil, it in fact designates much more. This is supported by the fact that at the beginning of the modern era, it was precisely by way of the Balkans that ancient knowledge, which to a large extent triggered the Renaissance, returned to the West. We know for example that there were direct links between the painters of Sopočani and Giotto. This would be nothing exceptional, had it not been discovered that the frescoes of Sopočani clearly show perspective, which preceded the famous Renaissance master, who received letters on this subject from there. And the same is true of landscape realism and emotional charge in the wall paintings of Sopočani.
The Balkans represents a kind of buffer zone between the Western and Eastern civilisation, between the Occident and the Orient. The dividing line between the western and the eastern worlds ran almost right across the middle of the Balkan peninsula, between the western and eastern halves of the Occident, of what we today call the Western civilisation. The roots of this division reach far back into prehistory and it would be difficult to pinpoint its origins. At the southern part of the Balkans was a cradle of the Western civilisation, even though the Greeks today absolutely refuse to be included among the nations and countries of the “Balkan melting pot”. With a kind of perverted logic, they proclaim themselves West Europeans, even though they are traditionally separated from this Europe by several deep differences, which, on the other hand, link them to precisely that environment they are trying to escape. As we look further into the past, we notice that the present ideological image of the world begins to charge; the centre of civilisation begins to shift back to the East; the foundations of today’s enlightened and progressive Western world were born and shaped far outside Europe, which was at that time still millennia away from civilisation, a barbarian province which civilisation only gradually adopted and subdued through influences coming from the East. Even as late as the Iron Age – not counting significant technology and the use iron – it would be difficult to compare the standard of living, culture and civilisation between the two worlds. The Illyrians and the Celts cannot be compared on an equal basis with the cultures of east Mediterranean peoples. Stonehenge is laughably small in comparison with Persepolis, Babylon, Damascus, Egyptian cities or Cretan and Minoan palaces. It is true that high civilisation moved from east to west by sea and to some extent bypassed the continental Balkan region, however, Ancient Greeks penetrated into the heart of the peninsula not only along the Adriatic coast but also by following the course of the mighty Ister and other routes. We know for example that Cadmus and Harmonia (changed into snakes), at the end of their lives, took refuge in Illyria, which suggests that the Greeks had links with the peninsula’s hinterland. Let us not forget the heroic exploits of the Argonauts and the route they chose to return home. In those times the journey could be compared to the voyage of Columbus two millennia later. They as well charted unknown territory, convinced that the image they had about their world was true. It was of course a false image, but it did help them return as famous explorers who had circumnavigated the world. Columbus as well, following a faulty representation of the world, set sail for India but still achieved something important by crossing an ocean, discovering a new world and returning home. Something completely different and unexpected. And the Argonauts were not the first. A long time before them, unknown bearers of the culture of the Lepenski Vir, the worshipers of the empty goggle of fish, followed the course of the mightiest European river. Ten thousand years later, the goggling was admired by the Argentine writer Julio Cortasar (he however was not fascinated by the carps but by alcolotel). Even today it is still not quite clear how the currents of various progressive cultures or civilisations ebbed and from which direction the overflowing waves of more highly developed worlds invaded the barbarian lands. We are still not certain that Hisarlik was indeed once Troy. There is a fantastic, but plausible explanation, also based on careful reading of the Iliad, which maintains that the meanders of the Scamandros are in fact the ancient forks of the river Neretva near Gabela or the flooded region of Hutovo blato. Zeus, who occasionally came to watch the outcome of the battle between Priam’s army and the allies under the supreme command of melodramatic Agamemnon, allegedly did so from the top of Sveti Ilija, the highest peak of the Pelješac peninsula. And his brother Poseidon, after adventurous journeys all over the Mediterranean, parked his chariot in the cave of Modra špilja on the island of Biševo. Even though today we prefer to talk about Greece as the cradle of civilisation and place it in the Balkans in the broader sense of the term, it is not difficult to realise that the definition of present day Balkans has nothing to do with its historic acceptation. It is certainly something that has nothing to do with the shouts of “Thalassa, Thalassa”. The Balkans that we have in mind is that part of the geographic area that does not reach the coast. Even though this was ensured by the allied navies, under the aegis of the United Nations, which prevented civilian victims in the recent wars from obtaining weapons and take up arms against the Belgrade army on an equal footing. The dark green, deep forests, that made such an impression on the Turks, presented an impenetrable mountain labyrinth that every occasional passer-by – that is, all the boisterous tribes that made incursions by land towards the west – avoided by keeping to the river valleys. Only after many centuries of settlement was it possible for people to gradually settle also the remote and inaccessible wilderness and establish a high culture of their own.