Some time ago I visited a part of the world that I once could loosely call ‘my country’. What was once one country is now seven.
If this sounds like a riddle – it is.
I use the word ‘loosely’ retrospectively because some people like me; rightly or wrongly, once regarded that part of the world as their country. While for other people from the same part of the world, it was never wholly their country. Maybe they acknowledged only one part of it as their real or true or desired country.
So, when I go there now I tread carefully. After all maybe, you can’t call some parts of the world your own just because you were once told it was yours, or just because you once scaled its mountains, or swam in its seas, and covered its great distances by the night train.
Nor can you make a claim on the cities of that country where you once whispered words of love.
But, apparently, I am told, you can claim cities that you have conquered with fire and destruction; any city.
And I do wonder if one should only claim as ones country that small piece of land on which one stands, when the rest of the land starts breaking off and drifting away.
There, in that part of the world that I visited some time ago, I saw forests, mountains, blue sky and a lake. All of this was old and seemingly in its correct place, in peace with itself and with everything else. There I was, in this country, whose inhabitants had once been told to love each other for whatever reason. However, those people know from long experience that love is much more difficult to cultivate than hatred.
Love requires one to exist alongside others. Love cannot exist when one is alone. Love requires mutual respect and equality. Requires that the stronger support the weak and the healthier look after the sick. That type of love kind of exists in a family and extends to a tribe; as bonds are formed out of necessity and kinship. Even though, such love has its price and sacrifices are always asked for in exchange.
But here, inhabitants of this country have been asked to extend their love beyond their tribes. But these tribes carry their divisions and hold on to hurt from past injustices.
To practice love is the highest task among the duties of being a human. Despite this, even our spiritual and religious teachings often find a way to justify ‘non-love’.
Hence, inevitably, hatred prevails and conflicts arise, as it happened in my country. From the conflict, winners and losers emerge – each in a world of their own.
They are all blinded by refusing to see the consequences of their own actions; with their hearts dulled by ignoring the pain of others.
But the hate, per se, is not a good enough reason to exist. Once the enemy is defeated there is no-one left to hate and so inevitably the winners and losers reach out to each other with some kind of love offerings. Love also with a price tag.
There, in that part of the world, which was once my country, I came across scores of professional dealers of all sorts: manipulators, missionaries, mercenaries, adventurers, chancers, drop outs of all kinds and occasional idealists; all of them promoters of imported love.
In a blind, dualist world of love and hate, good and bad, a kind of fictional world of good is created, through all types of bad actions.
All that rhetoric belongs to yet another tribe. A tribe which is stronger than those native tribes. In fact, this tribe is strongest of them all. Equipped with modern mythology and legends, they make claims on history, science and progress; claiming that they will ‘better the world’. ‘After all’, they say, ‘See how good it is now, for humanity today, where we have arrived. It was never better’. For some, indeed it is better. For a few – much better. And those few intend to keep things just as they are.
But back to this country of mine, as after any conflict, for some things got better. The winners, as always, claim that their win is due to their superior strength and unity; the fight was for a just cause. The victory is never thought to be due to the fact that they have taken something from those who have lost. And the losers are left to count their losses – and to fend for themselves.
That is the space into which the visitors’ entourage moves in. The strongest always look for the new recruits to further strengthen their power. Just as the brutal looked for slaves to increase their wealth.
And then there are the servants of God who seek wounded souls; to heal them. In that part of the world, which was once my country, those in the Service of God were always present. Domini Cani – Dogs of God. Those who would apart from establishing temples, when required, reset a human soul for a substantial fee.
If the strongest and the winners set the moral compass, then what is left for the defeated and the losers?
If the party line, or a letter from a scripture is all that is needed for a good life, is there any place for doubters and defectors?
What are the weak to do when help comes in the form of one or another temple? When the word gets around that help comes as a result of becoming pious; is assigning oneself to some kind of new-old tribe the way forward, even if that really means a deeper separation between the winners and losers?
Almost every prominent hill in the region around the town where I was born is now occupied by a newly built mosque or church. After all, weren’t we all born just to be put to some kind of use? But, by whom?
And seemingly, the way to a good life quickly becomes apparent. We all believe in the same things and everything will be well. Right?
Except, the world today, apparently, functions on the principles of democracy. We choose our representative and our representative will have our best interest at heart.
Except, when the new-old tribes’ parties are formed as nationalist parties. Then put rich and poor into the mix and you soon find out that being involved in politics and keeping the nationalist divisions alive is a sure way of keeping oneself in a job.
And where in all of this is there space for creativity; and the artists who are compelled to ask questions?
In my hometown, the mayor is a published writer.
Amongst many of his duties, he takes part in running an annual literary festival where the best writing from the region is celebrated. This is a region of once warring tribes, who speak shades of the same language.
On the face of it, it’s great to have a writer to run a town; but on the flip side, the entire region is in economical meltdown and cultural downturn.
Like everywhere else, reality TV and minor celebrities shape the aspirations of the younger generation. Reality TV and minor celebrities are powerful tools in the hands of the aforementioned entourage.
At the same time nationalist politicians need a cultural milieu around them. So, paradoxically, the position of certain accomplished artists is as good as it can be.
Film festivals pop up regularly, and celebrities of all kinds turn up at them. But art as a powerful social force is in decline, with struggling galleries and theatres. Does this sound familiar? Isn’t that how a strong, modern society functions? Or is that a privilege of strong, victorious societies?
At the same time, strong societies, societies that have achieved their strength by brutality, can afford to have ‘free speech’, critical thinking, provocative art, even experimenting with new models of society, that ‘need to be tested somewhere else first’.
And what about weak, fractured societies like those that emerged from what was once my country?
Art has always offered what institutionalized religions and politics can’t – inspiration and honesty, respectively, but art was never enough to sustain life itself.
So, freedom of speech, censorship, and provocative art is all part of the means by which a society finds its strength; finding a way to exist in a world where the strong crush the small as a way of self-preservation.
So, what do you get when you ‘Balkanise’ one big, functioning country?
You might get one, now smaller, still strong country, but you will certainly also get several weak countries and they will be prime territories for the foreign entourage, for the army of chancers, and Dogs of God.
And so, the strong and victorious will continue using their strange moral compass to embark on a recruitment process. Imported fake love keeps sowing seeds of hate.
I sometimes wonder if the people of that land that was once my country will ever be able to live together again like they did in that mythical, legendary nation. Whenever I see those forests, mountains and lakes, I think it is still possible. Good people grow from that land. Love is the best medicine to follow hate. But I also wonder if that mentioned love is really the privilege of just one family, or one tribe. The strongest.
Copyright Edin Suljic, 2017.