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The Serbs: Nurtured By Defeat

July 2011 | #13

by: David B. Kanin
Adjunct Professor
Johns Hopkins University
pp: 47
ISSN: 2038-632X

Paper's frontpage
July 2011 | #13

Abstract

There are worse things than defeat. If a community has the opportunity to inspect its setbacks its conqueror has stopped short of wiping out the vanquished group's memory and collective existence. If the defeated are a mobile community they might literally look for greener pastures. Sedentary winners and losers, on the other hand, remain in contact, and their paired experiences of victory and defeat affect future actions on both sides.
The Serbs are among those who have developed their identity by moving from defeat to defeat. Enemies have failed to (or refrained from) destroying them, inundating them with non-Serbian settlers, or banishing them to a destructive exile. The iconic battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389 remains an appropriate starting point for a discussion of Serbia's relationship to defeat, but the evolution of songs and memories adapted to the task of honing a Herderian nation, not the battle itself, informs the construction of collective defeat. The peripatetic remains of "Tsar" Lazar, continuing references to his heavenly kingdom, and mass commemorative rallies at the battlefield in 1889 and 1989 remain central, contemporary, touchstones. Serb poets and politicians folded defeats of the 18th and 19th centuries into the Kosovo memory. Nevertheless, the retreat of 1915-16—for modern Serbia the apotheosis of victorious defeat—was punctuated by a conscious decision not to make a Lazar-like sacrifice , but rather to keep moving across the 1389 battlefield toward what would become the earthly victory of 1918.
For Serbian nationalists, history should have ended on June 28, 1921, when a new constitution celebrated Serbian control over a large regional space. Instead, the defeat of 1941, destruction of the Chetniks by a decidedly un-Serb Tito, and the Communist regime's systematic dismantling of Serbia's status and pretentions led literary and political keepers of the flame of defeat to move Serbs toward the catastrophes of the 1990s. Those defeats—loss of territory and regional status and demonization by other Balkans peoples and by larger powers whose respect Serbia had come to count on—remain undigested. The assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic in 2003 continues to spark introspective characterizations of a continuing sense of defeat. Serbia's pathology—reflected in its refusal in 2005 to attend the celebration of the anniversary of what the rest of Europe considered victory in World War II—resembles somewhat Germany's attitude toward its incomplete defeat in 1918.
Collective healing would require the hard decision to stop nurturing defeat in favor of a less dramatic, more productive focus on finding a different way to craft a collective future.

 

Keywords

Serbia, Defeat, Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia, Herder, Alexander Karadjordjevic, Tito, Rankovic, and Milosevic

Table of contents

Abstract
Keywords
1. Introduction
2. 1389 and All That
3. Toward Nation, State, and Modernism
4. The Serbs Enter Europe
5. The Serbs Were Not Alone
6. 1915—Apotheosis of Triumphant Defeat
7. "Defeat" Begins to Have a Sour Taste
8. From World War II Through the Tito Years: One Serb's Victory is Another Serb's Defeat.
9. Setting Serbia Up for Defeat
10. Defeat and Denial: The Wars of the 1990s and Serbian Self-Delusion
11. Assassination as Defeat
12. Conclusion: Can Serbia Emerge From Defeat?
Bibliography

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Version

Ver.: 01
Time stamp: 201107212915

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