Serbian president Boris Tadic's sentiments are most likely in the right place, though he is certainly not the political force against which possibilities are measured. Yesterday at a roundtable on "Thought crime, ten years later" (dedicated to commemorating the prosecution of Belgrade intellectuals for an illegal meeting, a case in which the prosecutor was current justice minister Zoran Stojkovic), he directed a part of his remarks to questions of war crimes. As reported by Danas, Mr Tadic said:
"When I see in Kosovo the grave of a four year old child who was killed because of his Serbian nationality, by Albanians who think that is normal, I regard that as pathology. And I ask whether somebody has killed children of another nationality in the name of our nation. Maybe that somebody has been celebrated as a hero our celebrated in the institutions of this society. In this state there exists a negative attitude toward raising the question of war crimes"
"So now I am raising that question: what if somebody committed war crimes, killed others --on a fairly massive level-- and is now free? That person comes into contact with our children, he is a part of our everyday experience, he lives a completely normal life, and the consequences of his life are the deaths of other people. And that is done in the name of our nation. How will we build a normal environment in which future generations will be formed as people with normal values, if the state protects or fails to punish people who have committed crimes of this type, people who carry with them a pathology that threatens the security of every child."
Credit to Mr Tadic for raising the issue, especially in a context other than economics. What seems interesting about the way he raises it, though, is his combination of rhetorical elements. First, there is the invocation of balance, in which any mention of crimes by one side has to be prefaced by a mention of crimes by another side. This may be a form of political self-protection, or an effort to invoke the popular psychology of victimhood as the only way possible of directing attention to something other than victimhood. Second, there is the invocation of normality, a construction that I believe originates with the popular chansoneur Djordje Balasevic. In the context, it seems to be a way of dividing the moral universe into malicious peddlers of violence on the one side, and normal people on the other. Clearly normal people would never think of supporting the sort of things that have been done in their name. But as appealing as this rhetoric is for Mr Balasevic as a way of communing with his adoring pan-Balkan audiences, it comes off a bit as autoamnesty coming from a politician. Third, of course, is the theme of children. Presumably we all love our children more than we like criminals, so we know whose interest comes first. This is the construction that leaves the greatest number of questions open for me, and it seems to be fairly new as a part of at least this particular controversy. Mr Tadic seems to be using it a bit broadly, but it is possible to imagine some potential here. Where it might fit is as a part of a general critique of what some people have called (vid. Ivan Colovic) the necrophilia of dominant political culture in nationalism. Cast right, it calls to mind the lamented Stojan Cerovic's question: "Maybe our problem is more a shortage of life than an excess of death?"