by Aleksandra Priestfield
Published in SWANS
June 5, 2000
Note from Swans' Editor: Two weeks ago Michael
Parenti demonstrated in
pages the lies and disinformation propagated by the main media.
Meantime, the same "Officialdom" was proclaiming
the seizure by the Serbian government of a local television station,
financed by Western financiers. Officialdom reached an audience
in the tens of millions, we, in the thousands. Undoubtedly, we
have a long way to go. But Officialdom is not satisfied with its
own spin and its wide reach. Wide is not enough. They want it all.
So, the next step, totally unpublicized,
is to control and literally redefine history through a simple tool,
censorship. Bluntly put, if you erase history,
you can better fashion your own reality.
Aleksandra Priestfield, in her two-part essay, shows you how.
A powerful and scary tale…
I FROM THE PRESS CONFERENCE
A startling press conference was held in Banja Luka, the "capital"
of the Serbian part of Bosnia (the Republika Srpska) on October 8, 1999.
It was triggered by the extraordinary actions of the
European Community, who banned (amongst other things)
the works of Nobel
laureate Dr Ivo Andric from the textbooks of Republika Srpska
schoolchildren. The international community has
formed a Commission which includes, almost as if
by an afterthought, representatives of Republika Srpska and the
[Muslim/Croat] Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the constituent
parts of Bosnia, for the purpose of adjudging
and withdrawing elementary and high school textbooks with 'offensive'
content. Such content includes the work
of Dr Andric as well as folk poems,
songs such as 'Tamo Daleko' ('There, Far Away') and 'Krece se Ladja
Francuska' ('The French Ship is Leaving'), both of which deal with
periods of World War I Serbian history - as well as
Yugoslavia's national anthem.
In a response to this flagrant interference into the culture of a
people, not to mention the breaking of the bloodily-enforced Dayton
agreement, Professor Predrag Lazarevic, educational consultant,
had this to say:
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like first of all to apologise for
not having earlier spoken out about the removal of 'offensive'
texts from the textbooks of the children of Republika Srpska and
the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as someone whose training
and whose profession lies in the field of education.
[I think that] the Ministry of Education has overreached itself,
because it started, without the consent or approval of the National
Government Council, to discuss themes specifically related to the
positions of the constituent parts of Bosnia according to the
Dayton agreement and the Dayton-based constitution of Bosnia.
First of all, what are 'offensive' texts? They are texts
which promulgate lies about another race or nation in order to
demean or insult that race or nation.
But something rather strange has occurred here - texts revealing
truths about another race or nation have now been presented as
In the old Yugoslavia, the socialist Yugoslavia, the concept
of 'Brotherhood and Unity' was paramount. All three of its
major religions and all of its peoples were supposed to be
punished equitably for their sins - in other words, if the
Orthodox clergy did something wrong, the Catholic clergy
and the 'Hodzas', the Muslim clergy, would have to suffer
The international community
has gone further. It maintains that texts which were not offensive
to the totalitarian government of socialist Yugoslavia are suddenly
deeply so. Which texts, then are we talking about?
First and foremost, this concerns the work of Ivo Andric.
A well-known excerpt from his novel "The Bridge on the Drina"
has been deemed offensive - an extract dealing with the
Turkish 'blood tribute', the taking of Christian children
from the territory of occupied Bosnia.
"If any single factor made the Balkans what
they were in histoty -- and what they still are today --
it was the ordeal of the Turk. But just what the 500
years of Turkish occupation meant to the Balkans
is no easy matter to define.... For the 18th and
19th Centuries, the image of
Turkey was that of a
rotting empire, of a corrupt, incopetent and sadistic
national elite preying on the subject Balkan peoples
-- of a cynical government whose only method of rule
was atrocity. And for still earlier times the image
of the Turk was one of power -- stark, inexorable
and menacing to Europe."
Life World Library,
by Edmund Stillman and The Editors of Life
New York 1964,
Andric, Ivo (b. Oct 10, 1892,
Dolac, near Travnik, Bosnia - d. March 13, 1975, Belgrade)
writer of Serbo-Croatian novels and short stories who
was awarded the Nobel Prize for
Literature in 1961.
Andric studied at Zagreb, Krakow, Vienna and Graz. His
potential as s writer of both prose and verse were
recognized early, and his reputation was established
with "Ex Ponto" (1918), a contemplative, lyrical
prose work written during his interment by Austro-Hungarian
authorities... during World War I. Collections of his short
stories were published at intervals from 1920 onward.
Following World War I, he entered the Yugoslav diplomatic service.
Although his career took him to Rome, Bucharest, Madrid, Geneva, and
Berlin, it was his native province, with its wealth of ethnic types, that
provided the themes and psychological studies to be found in his work.
Of his three novels, written during the second World War, two - "Travnicka
hronika" (1945; Bosnian Story, 1959) and "Na Drini cuprija" (1945;
The Bridge on the Drina, 1959) - are
concerned with the history of Bosnia.
Andric's work reveal his deterministic
philosophy and his SENSE OF COMPASSION AND ARE WRITTEN
OBJECTIVELY AND SOBERLY, in language of great beauty and
purity. The Nobel Prize committee commented particularly
on the "ephic force" with which he handled his material,
especially in "The Bridge on the Drina".
Micropedia, Edition 1986,
Vol 1, Page 393
Entry: Andric, Ivo
The relevant passage from the "Bridge on the Drina" goes as follows:
On that November day a long convoy of laden horses
arrived on the left bank of the river and halted there to spend the night. The Aga of the janissaries,
with armed escort, was returning to Stambul after collecting from the villages of eastern Bosnia the
appointed number of Christian children for the blood tribute.
…the necessary number of healthy, bright and good
looking lads between ten and fifteen years old had been found without difficulty, even though many parents
had hidden their children in the forests, taught them how to appear half witted, clothed them in rags and
let them get filthy, to avoid the Aga's choice.
Some even went so far as to maim their own children,
cutting off one of their fingers with an axe.
…a little way behind the last horses in that strange
convoy straggled, dishevelled and exhausted, many parents and relatives of those children who were
being carried away forever to a foreign world where they would be circumcised, become Turkish and,
forgetting their faith, their country and
their origin, would pass their lives in the
service of the Empire. They were for the most
part women, mothers, grandmothers and sisters of the stolen children.
[The women would get driven away but…] ….gather
again a little later behind the convoy and strive with tear-filled eyes to see once again over the
panniers the heads of the children who were
being taken from them. The mothers were especially
persistent and hard to restrain. Some would
rush forward not looking where they were going, with bare breasts and
dishevelled hair, forgetting everything
about them, wailing and lamenting as if at a burial, while others
almost out of their minds moaned as if
their wombs were being torn by birthpangs and blinded with tears ran
right onto the horsemen's whips and replied
to every blow with the fruitless question: "Where are you taking
him? Why are you taking him from me?" Some
tried to speak clearly to their children and give them some last
part of themselves, as much as might be
said in a couple of words, some recommendation or advice for the way...
my son, don't forget your mother...'
Ilija, Ilija!" screamed another woman, searching desperately with her glances for the dear well-known
head and repeating this incessantly as if she wished to carve into the child's memory that name which
would in a day or two be taken from him forever.
This is what a current textbook looks like. [The Professor shows a censored textbook, with the 'offensive' portion scoured out with a thick black felt-tip pen] What does this remind you of?
And is the European Union
and the international community going to castigate the Nobel
Committee for bestowing this accolade upon Ivo Andric?
Another thing that is apparently upsetting is the Yugoslav national anthem, 'Hej Sloveni' ('Hey
Slavs'). The lyrics and a translation are given below:
Hej Slaveni, joste zivi
duh vasih dedova
dok za narod srce bije
Zivi, zivi, duh slovenski,
Zalud preti ponor pakla,
zalud vatra groma!
Nek se sada i nad nama
burom sve raznese!
Stena puca, dub se lama
zemlja nek se trese!
Mi stojimo postojano
kao klisurine -
proklet bio izdajica
Proklet bio izdajica
Hey Slavs - still lives|
the spirit of your grandfathers
while for their people beat the hearts
of their sons.
Lives, lives the spirit of the Slavs
it will live for aeons!
In vain yawns the pit of hell,
in vain the fires of thunder!
Let now, above us,
the storm shatter all!
The stone breaks, the tree splits
let the earth start shaking!
We are standing steady
like cliffs -
damned be he who betrays
Damned be he who betrays
I was surprised, but upon reflection I
understood that what was 'offensive' in this
song was the sentence Damned be he who betrays
his homeland, which sentiment is obviously
uncomfortable for those who may be feeling this way.
There are other examples. Songs like 'Tamo Daleko'
('There, Far Away') and 'Krece se Ladja Francuska'
('The French Ship is Leaving') have been excised
from musical studies. I don't know who wanted this -
perhaps the French, in order to avoid accusations
of collaborating with the designated aggressors
Both songs are World War I vintage, commemorating
a ghastly winter
withdrawal over the Albanian mountains where
hunger, disease, cold and bandits decimated
the Serb army who regrouped in Corfu (known and
revered to this day as the Blue Tomb because
so many died there) and returned to win back
their country from the those who had driven
them from it.
The lyrics of 'Tamo Daleko', and their translation,
are as follows:
gde cveta beli krin,
tamo su zivot dali
zajedno otac i sin.
gde cveta limun zut,
tamo je srpskoj vojsci
jedini bio put.
na Krfu zivjeh ja -
ali sam uvek klic'o
There, far away,|
where the white lily blooms,
there their lives laid down
father and son together.
There, far away,
where blooms the yellow lemon tree,
there was to the Serbian army
the only open way.
There, far away,
I lived on Corfu -
but I always cried out
"long live Serbia!"
Reactions to such truncations are leading
to the children of Bosnia saying, "They just told us
which texts to learn by heart".
I cannot accept
that it would annoy anyone that an old song speaks
of a love of country, or is critical of the occupation
of the region by the Ottoman Turks.
Nobody has mentioned the "Bosniacs", nor
even Muslims with a capital M, but specifically
Turks as an occupation power.
With this type of politics we are supposed to enter
the European Union. I don't
know how the French would
react if their major literary works became unacceptable
- Balzac, Stendhal, Hugo - or how the English would react
if someone questioned the worth of Milton or,
God forbid, Shakespeare. And in our country Njegos
(one of our foremost poets) is being put under
And to conclude, Mrs Alexandra Stiegelmayer
[of the EU] warns us that unless we accept
the renovation of the symbols of [Turkish] occupation,
unless we accede in toto to the demands from the EU,
we will not be accepted. I would like to ask
Mrs Stiegelmayer - how can we even ask to be members
of the European Union when the
international community has turned Bosnia into the
lowest form of protectorate? Is
it possible that in a sovereign country of any description
a civil servant from the UN, however exalted his
position, can displace the legally elected President
of a Governing Council, can render irrelevant any member
of that Council, can unilaterally make decisions and
thrust them upon a people, can meddle with that people's
traditions, history and past, and deny the right of
free election - to meddle, in a word, with the very
stuff of democracy?
"Who controls the past controls the future.
Who controls the present controls the past."
"1984", p. 35
IS WRITTEN BY THE WINNERS
In every corner of what used to be Yugoslavia
history is being rewritten to suit. Not just
recent history, although that is the easiest
thing to do - but the history of decades ago,
of hundreds of years ago. In
the examples quoted by Professor Lazarevic in the
press conference called to condemn the meddling
of the international community with the historical
heritage of a nation there is a common thread -
and that is, that it is apparently only Serbian
history and literary tradition which is to be denied.
Through a fascinating tangle of circumstances the
Nobel laureate Ivo Andric is being claimed by practically
every Yugoslav ethnic group - he was born in Croatia
(hence he is Croat), lived in Bosnia (hence he can
be claimed by the Muslims), but unfortunately his
family and his background is forthrightly Serb
and he himself always identified himself as such.
In his most famous book, "The Bridge on the Drina",
it is the sufferings of Serbs under the Ottoman
occupation that he chronicled, as well as the
evolution of the society which makes up today's
Bosnia. But because he dared write about the fact
that Serbs suffered at Turkish hands, he is now
suddenly persona non grata and his work
is only good enough to be crudely censored by
being blacked out in children's textbooks.
Not only that, but the heart of his work, one
of the most moving and most searing passages in
the novel that earned him the world's most
prestigious literary award.
The things they are taking out of the school
syllabuses were written decades ago, centuries
ago. They describe independently verifiable
history. That history is now inconvenient for
somebody, and a nation whose history and heritage
is being expunged is too weakened to fight back.
It is punishment, a rewriting of history by the
victors. Two generations on, and
bitter winter of 1915 in the Albanian mountains
will not even be a memory - a tragedy which even
Western writers with no connection for the region
have chronicled with pity and with
And yet, a song that speaks to the
great-great-grandchildren of the soldiers who made
that retreat, 'Tamo Daleko', is deemed offensive.
It is punishment, for unproved and unverifiable crimes,
for trumped up charges, brought to bear so that current
allies can see that "enemies" are getting their
"...to trace out the history...
to say who was fighting whom...,
would have been utterly impossible,
since... no spoken word,
ever made mention
of any other alignment
then the existing one...
enemy of the moment
always represented absolute evil,
and it followed that any
past or future agreement
with him was impossible."
"1984", p.34, 35
Let's transpose this, just for a moment. Let's
put a country like the United Kingdom in the dock.
Its crime: empire building. Carving out huge slices
of Africa and India and treating the locals like
vermin sometimes. Slicing out a section of Ireland
and hanging on to it through thick and thin through
25 years of The Troubles.
Evidence of crimes? Irrelevant. The press
says so, so it must be true.
Shakespeare and Milton are to be banned. English
schoolchildren are not allowed to learn of English
greatness. The English are to be painted in the
worst possible light in any and all material, so
that anything real and good that they have done is
simply ignored and swept under the carpet. They are
simply to be considered evil, and there is nothing
to be done about it.
Or let us take a Black American. The years of
slavery never happened, capice? All
references to it are to be wiped from the history
books. It doesn't matter that your ancestors felt
the lash on their own backs, the scars are lying.
Because Someone Else says so. In the years that
followed, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King were
just troublemakers, and King deserved what he got,
yeah? Why? Because Someone Else says so. And your
children's children will grow up believing slander,
because Someone Else said so and their own nation's
history was sat on, hard.
Or, an inevitable comparison, let's take the Jews.
Because Someone Else said their kind killed Christ,
therefore the entire race is wholly evil. The
Inquisition, the pogroms, the Holocaust - they
were no more than a people like that deserved,
right? Their culture - their Talmud, their wisdom,
their writers and literature - are to be denied and
dismissed and dismembered. Their language is to be
killed and buried, deep, deep, deep.
The things that happened in Bosnia - things like
the Turkish occupation - actually happened. If you
deny the people of this land the chance to know
about their own past, the history will remain
accessible to everyone else - everyone except the
people most deeply, most directly touched by that
history. You could read about the blood tribute of
the Ottoman Empire in some dusty library in a distant
University in far-off lands, but the only people
remaining ignorant of their history and heritage
would be the people of Bosnia themselves.
Bosnia has provided the most people-fodder for
War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague. More specifically,
it was the Serbs from Bosnia who were tapped for
this august body's needs - a handful of token Croats,
and no Muslim that I know of, have met the same fate.
In the Hague, what appears to hold is not the
time-honoured concept of Western justice that
an accused person is innocent until proved guilty
- proved by evidence that can stand in any
self-respecting court of law which precludes hearsay
from biased "witnesses" - but rather the idea that
it is up to defence lawyers, working under appallingly
unequal conditions to the prosecutors, to convince
the judges out of a pre-passed "guilty" verdict.
The same court is at the present moment so busy
"investigating" the Serbian and only the
Serbian crimes which allegedly took place in Kosovo
that the current situation there is not their concern
- and crimes committed against the Serbs during
NATO attacks on Yugoslavia or in its aftermath are,
by definition, not crimes. Carla del Ponte of
the Tribunal is on record as saying that
investigating NATO war crimes - evidence of
which she has received - is "not her priority". 1
A great fighter for human rights once said
that unprovoked aggression against another
country is "the supreme" war crime...
and yet the investigators say that the cases
brought against NATO on these charges by groups
in Greece, Canada and the UK are "not their
priority". 1 In other words, if
the Serbs are annihilated first, then after that
there will be no need to deal with any of the
rest of the mess. And annihilation includes the
erasing of their past and their right to any
pride in that past.
Let history stand and speak for itself. Consider
the likelyhood of a nation who was a valued and
courageous ally in two World Wars, fighters whom
countries like the United States and Britain and
France knew, trusted and
suddenly turning in the space of less than fifty
years into a tribe of ravening animals, selfish,
crude and vicious. Consider the evidence for such
a transformation. Consider the source for such
evidence. Consider the fact that even the best
and the bravest on this Earth are, after all,
as human as anyone else - and all humans are
fallible. But, as in a certain court, it would
appear that the guilty verdict is already in and
only one thing more remains to be decided: whether
the Serbian nation is to be judged for being
sub-human - which is a slanderous stone to throw,
given that we all live in glass houses of some
description - or all too human, prone to
the same mistakes as their judges, juries,
Let not the triumph of the conqueror blind
the West to the fact that, under the guise of justice,
they are dealing out cultural and often all too literal
genocide to a nation whose guilt of any sin has never
been proved through anything other than hearsay, circumstantial
evidence, and the convenience of pinning the badge
of "common enemy" onto a single people in order
to focus a world's fury on.
1. [Note from Swans' Editor] On June 2, 2000, just two weeks after
Priestfield's filing of her essay with Swans,
Carla Del Ponte told the U.N. Security Council that there was
"no basis for opening an investigation into any of those
allegations or into other incidents related to the NATO bombing."
The archive of other Swans' texts talking about Yugoslavia
NOTE: Please note that the above article is copyright of
It was presented here with express written permission
of the publisher. No additional re-posting is allowed without
express written permission from publisher of Swans. The Editor of Swans
can be contacted at this E-mail address.
We want to thank Mr. Gilles d'Aymery, Editor of Swans, for allowing
us to re-post this Swans' page.