“Good Serbians” part 3

I think this will be my last post regarding the “Novak Djokovic is a dangerous Serbian nationalist” blog post. I realized that, as I was writing this, I started to think about what it must be like to be a Serb at this point in history.

A year or so ago I finally got around to seeing the movie The Reader, which is about a German teenage boy who has an affair with an older woman.  Later, when the boy goes off to law school, he realizes that she served as a concentration camp guard and is on trial for crimes against humanity.  The author of the book on which the movie was based gave a fascinating interview in the special features.  He described how the book was an attempt to describe what it was like to be the first generation of Germans to grow up after World War II; to realize that your parents, your pastor, your doctor, your teachers, your neighbors, said and did horrible things.  One particularly fascinating portion of the interview described how his university hid all of the papers and books that the faculty published during WWII.  In the sixties, students at the university protested this, and the university relented, making the books and papers public.  The author described how horrifying it was to read papers from popular professors extolling the purity of the Aryan race, the greatness of Hitler, and the wickedness of the Jews.

As I was writing my response to “Novak Djokovic: Dangerous Serbian Nationalist?” I found myself thinking about this interview.  What must it be like to grow up in a country where your people within living memory, even people you knew, committed ethnic cleansing and genocide?  What must it be like to know that the first thing that most people think about when they hear your country’s name is a crime against humanity?  Germans know that reality, so do Japanese and Rwandans.  In a similar way, the Serbians must know that burden too.

The article that Monika quotes touches on this reality, and hints at how someone might respond.  In the article, Novak states that the war had a great impact on his life, and “wanted to show people there are good Serbs too.”  Novak is known for his patriotism, even though he chooses to live in Monte Carlo.  He displays the Serbian flag, plays proudly for the Davis Cup, and even brought Serbian dancers to dance with him on The Tonight Show.    Monika feels that Novak Djokovic is presenting such a positive image of Serbia because he does not believe that his country has committed any atrocities, and wants the world to support Serbia’s claim for the land of Kosovo.  These actions are likely an expression of pride in his country, but they may also hide a sense of discomfort about his country’s recent past.  His actions may stem as much from insecurity as it does from affection.  His stress for the positive aspects of Serbia may be a reaction to the horrible parts of the past.   I can’t say any of this for certain.  How can I?  I don’t know him personally, and likely never will, but I would not be surprised to find out that this is part of his motivation.

Monika, in her blog, seems to feel that Novak Djokovic hasn’t responded to Serbian atrocities in the correct way.  But what is the correct way to respond to them?  How does a person “deal with” the crimes of one’s ancestors, especially if those ancestors are still living?  I don’t pretend to know, and I think it’s a bit silly for me to give advice about that. 

I’ve delayed posting this, because I had no idea how to end it, but then I realized that it is impossible to end this post, becaues it’s impossible to resolve this post.  These issues are way beyond my ability to solve.  They deal with issues of politics and war crimes, with sin, penance, and forgiveness.  There is no easy answer, though I wish there was.

Perhaps there is only one way to respond to this; and that is the way the boy in The Reader dealt with it.  In The Reader, the boy visits a concentration camp, places his hand on a railing, and cries.  In a way, it’s an evasion, because it solves nothing.  But a part of me thinks that the only way to respond to these things is to cry, to mourn.

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4 Responses to “Good Serbians” part 3

  1. mariposaxprs says:

    You raise a very interesting point that “His actions may stem as much from insecurity as it does from affection.” I remember reading about how the post-war generations’ reactions to German and Japanese atrocities were found very lacking. Either they ignored the issues or were generally uncomfortable discussing them.

    As a tennis player, it’s not Djokovic’s responsibility to speak publicly about politics, and to some degree his wavering on the issue may reflect a greater insecurity. Although I don’t think he’s a “dangerous nationalist,” I think it was right of the blogger to at least question some of the claims he made publicly. As a public figure, it’s only natural that people will question statements he has made to the press. I guess it’s tough to say anything definite beyond that though!

    • I agree that the blogger was well within her rights to question his motives. As I responded to the post, I realized that it was the word “dangerous” that bugged me. If she had said, “Novak Djokovic is a Serbian nationalist whose actions are motivated by his family’s narrow personal interests,” I would not have had such a strong reaction to it. I mean, he’s certainly motivated by improving the interational standing of Serbia, and the Serbian government is interested in using him to promote their international standing as well. (The Soviet Union and other communist countries did the same thing with their athletes during the Cold War.) There’s nothing wrong with the press looking into those motivations.

      You’re right about Germany and Japan’s response to the war, even more so with Japan. Some Japanese people refuse to acknowledge their war crimes, and China and South Korea routinely criticize Japan for not including details of Nanking and the Comfort Women in Japanese history textbooks. I think Germany did a little better.

      • mariposaxprs says:

        The German & Japanese recollection of their WWII experiences is such an interesting topic—I much time in college studying it and even wrote parts of my thesis about it too. There’s a book Ian Buruma wrote called “The Wages of Guilt” that provides somewhat of a comparison between the post-war culture in Germany and Japan—it’s an interesting, if history-packed, reading.

        I think Buruma mentioned that the Japanese may have a form of self-victimization, b/c they were also the victims of the first atomic bombings by the U.S.A. To that extent, that sort of mutes any outright expression of guilt they would otherwise feel for their wartime actions. Though I’ve sometimes questioned this theory, b/c Germans also faced attacks by the Soviets and during the British raids. Then again, the German PM did the very public act of kneeling in front of the Polish concentration camp, which became such a visual symbol of apology. I guess to an extent, the two countries can’t be compared, since the scale and nature of their crimes is so different. Still, it’s somewhat of a good reference point for what’s happening today.

      • You have a good point about how the Japanese idea of victimization during the war. They can point to the atomic bombs at the end of the war and can focus their feelings on the sufferings they endured there, rather than the suffering they inflicted on the Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, etc.

        It’s true that the scale of atrocities is far beyond what happened in the former Yugoslavia, but it’s a good reference point, as you say.

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