Is there a more anachronistic signpost than the call to martyrdom?

Speech of thanks on receiving the Dimitrije Bogdanović award, May 16, 2023
(illustration, Milo Lompar, at the Serbian Literary Cooperative in Belgrade, speaking at the award ceremony)

I would like to thank the Scientific Association for the Development of Serbian Studies and its jury for the decision to award the Dimitrije Bogdanović prize to my book Black and World Literature (Biography of a Feeling, 2). My gratitude rests on five reasons.

The first reason is that the award bears the name of Dimitrije Bogdanović. It is the name of a great scholar of medieval literature and culture and a courageous and honorable representative of Serbian national rights in the woolen times of Titoist Yugoslavia. I studied from his books at the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade.


Another reason is that you gave a positive rating to a book that the Commission of the Ministry of Culture refused to recommend as mandatory for purchase in Serbian libraries. In the light of the current circumstances, in which the months-long political branding of my personality is taking place, I cannot escape the impression that it started with the removal of my intellectual and scientific works. Its president is a member of the literary group P-70, a signatory of the petition for the election of Aleksandar Vučić as president of Serbia, during his rule he was appointed to the position of director of the Institute for Cultural Development and, later, of the Ethnographic Museum. Although the Commission was dissolved and its election annulled, due to a conflict of interest, because its members included their books in the mandatory purchase, the new decision made by the officials of the Ministry of Culture, when it comes to my book, has not been changed. This is the best indicator that there was no difference between the supposed “experts” and the officials.


The third reason is that you reminded me of my first published text. He was devoted to the problem of the ending in Miloš Crnjanski’s Second Book of Sebo. It was published in the December issue of the magazine Savremenik in 1982. The main text of that issue was “Kosovo in the light of the history of Albanian-South Slavic relations”, written by Dimitrije Bogdanović. That text caused numerous negative reactions in the party-orchestrated campaign. Bogdanović himself was already under certain ideological suspicion. Because the collection of medieval poetry, Srbljak, which he prepared with Đorđe Trifunović, and which was published by SKZ, experienced – in the seventies of the 20th century – political and quasi-scientific challenges. Quasi-scientific objections serve to “cover” the ideological branding of the book, topic and man with literary and methodological remarks.

This is how Bogdanović’s History of Old Serbian Literature, published by SKZ, in the January-February issue of the journal Literary Criticism in 1982, was interwoven with a dance of literary theoretical arguments: that this book is of inhomogeneous and uneven value, that it shows the absence of a refined ear for historical specifics, that lightly rejected the inevitable moments that Marxist thought drew attention to, that it was guided by the uncriticalness of cultural egocentrism, through the universal exaltation of heritage in general, that it did not meet the highest requirements set before it by the writer of this literary criticism, so it is not acceptable even as a reliable manual. All these quasi-arguments “covered” the ideological subtext of the remark that Bogdanović was guided by a mystical understanding of some phenomena of medieval literature that is incompatible with the science of literature and that he is inclined to accept a religious understanding of medieval literature that presents it according to religious postulates as it should be, and not what it really is. The writer of this review had not even completed his literature studies and was already ready to put himself at the service of ideological branding of a proven scholar of medieval heritage.

Published a year later, Dimitrije Bogdanović’s Book on Kosovo naturally experienced – in such an environment – a chorus of objections. He died soon after. The topic remained unchanged: it is therefore not unnatural for the current government to organize a whole campaign against me because of the publicly and unyieldingly shown resistance to the unconstitutional decisions of the President of Serbia by which Kosovo and Metohija are separated from Serbia. Maybe they will stop your ears, but I must add: the treacherous decisions of the President of Serbia.


The fourth reason is that you gave me the opportunity to point out the difference between ideological and cultural-historical observation of political processes. In the seventies of the 20th century, signs of fatigue appeared in the ideological world of communism. The emergence of Eurocommunism, led by the likeable and spiritual figure of Enrico Berlinguer, acted as a renewal of the emancipatory roots of the leftist tradition. Such a suggestion was provided by an ideological perspective in looking at historical processes. In his uncompromising reckoning with Leninism as the highest stage of political socialism, unique in its consistency and sharpness in our country, Nikola Milošević saw Eurocommunism as an alternative: in the spirit of theoretical socialism.

At the same time, Dimitrije Bogdanović looked at things from a cultural-historical perspective. “A nice evening with Dimitrije Bogdanović” ‒ Dejan Medaković’s diary entry informs us. “That man has some, for our times, unusual and rare composure.” He follows every word carefully, and his answers show how critically he receives them.” Being composed – is it approaching that calmness that – as if from the bottom of the sea – penetrates into the field of vision of a person’s face? Does this manifest a primal (Hilandarian) readiness for the bloody feast of history, for erasing the color from some painted fresco, for the demolition of giant sculptures in the Afghan deserts, for the scattering of wedge-shaped tiles in the bombed Baghdad, for the proselytizing of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra? There is always something of wonder in that readiness, like eyebrows arched over the contents of a bloody theater: “We have also come to the problems of ecumenism.” He does not believe in those ideas, because they rest on wrong and contrary foundations and principles.” Although recognized as wrong, the principles themselves are astonishingly dilapidated: due to dubious and unsolid connections with the world. “Catholicism requires eternal adaptation to life, to daily politics.” Today he gets into the spirit of the European left and tries to find some space among atheists.” At the time of the seemingly unchallenged spread of world communism, on January 21, 1977, when it mistakenly seemed that the communist world was a monolith guaranteed by the Helsinki agreement, someone who sees things can notice the subtle movement of Catholicism in the bosom of the European left – as a separation of Latin from Orthodox communists beyond the ideological ammo of public forums. Because he looks at things from the depths of centuries: from the negative experience of the scratched face on the fresco.

Thus, one can learn that the understanding of historical processes must count on the intersection of ideological and cultural-historical perspectives. Not on the dominance of any of them, but on the concrete checking of each of them. It is only in the interweaving of the universalist (ideological) and contextualist (culturalist) perspective that the multifaceted intellectual understanding of things is ensured. It offers us knowledge about the fall of world affairs into a vicious rhythm: “experience teaches that until now they have always succeeded, they have always found a modus vivendi for their worldly goals.” And what remains when one leaves the realm of power and rule? “What remains for orthodoxy?” “Martyrium,” he says calmly, “that’s the main difference.” Martyrdom follows us, we receive it following Christ.” Is there a more anachronistic signpost than the call to martyrdom?

And there are different types of martyrdom: breath, soul, spirit, barrenness in the face of empty paper, intemperance in the face of antipathy, inconsistency in relation to sympathy, dying – as Ksenija Atanasijević wrote – “in the most unworthy of all social collapses, – in complete loss of self”. But the key signpost is printed in words – calmly. Being calm in the face of the very possibility of martyrdom – as if that’s all there is to it. It is the lightning peace of the face we are staring at: in the silence of the morning, which seems to be the silence of the universe. There are those who – from the Pythagoreans and Platonists – sense some energy of sound in the movement of the planets, in the changes in the position of the stars, within the silence that seems complete: they call it the music of the spheres. The silence in which we are incorporated, without a residue, in which we disappear, because the principium individuationis disappears, ushers in the barely audible music of the spheres: before the depth of the eye that remains burning with a blue glow under the intellectual pupa.


The fifth reason is that you have enabled me to publicly announce one of my decisions. As a student of Nikola Milošević, I adopted his opinion that there is an age after which awards should not be received. They – he claimed – lose their stimulating effect. I have never thought that awards have a stimulating effect, but I have always considered that their effect is twofold: in the individual sense, it is compensatory; in the social sense, it is status. In youth, they are a compensation for unfamiliarity; in the middle ages, for no less power. This is why I think that in certain years the need for compensation hides a person’s fear of death. That goes against my opinion that we shouldn’t be too afraid of death. So I take this opportunity – for which I am grateful – to say that I no longer intend to accept any awards. In the social sense, the decision is insignificant, because a society that destroys all standards, moral, material, public, customary, school, universal, civilizational, cultural, historical, cannot provide a person with any status, except a shameful one. And we don’t need awards for that.

I thank you for this award, whose beautiful and great name is behind my decision, as well as for the fact that you have inadvertently made it possible for me to say all this publicly.

It is not allowed to transmit the text without the permission of Milo Lompar

Source: Balkan Magazin – Aktuelnosti by

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