Serbian National Character - George W. Cesarich (English)

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Serbian National Character - George W. Cesarich (English)

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There are certain idiosyncrasies of the Serbian national character of which the outside world is totally unaware. And yet, to know them is a key to the understanding of this small and vigorous nation which has so often in recent years jeopardized peace and prevented stability in that sensitive part of Europe. We have particularly in mind the Serbian propensity to narcissism, megalomania and mystification. Many Serbians, and especially their leading circles, gravitate excessively to these mental attitudes which are unknown to most Croatians. 1 We should like to emphasize here that we do not regard them as hereditary or genetic features of the Serbian nation, but as a result of political, social and economic developments in Serbia during many centuries.

As the American College Dictionary defines it, narcissism is the admiration of one's own physical and mental attributes; it is a normal condition at the infantile level of personality development. Megalomania is a form of mental alienation marked by delusions of greatness. Mystification is intentional misrepresentation of facts. These three character deficiencies are closely related, and are, as such, important features of the Serbian national personality. This fact has been frankly admitted by some objective Serbian students of history. In a recently published political book, a Serbian writer, Mr. Desimir Tosic, speaking about Serbian individualism, maintains quite definitely: "A good part of the Serbian intelligentsia suffers from the Narciss disease, - i.e., from deification of, and falling in love with their own personality, their own figure, their own words, their own writings. Of course, not only educated people suffer from this disease; it goes down to the 'lower' levels and includes en masse our half-intelligentsia..." 2 This kind of narcissism, according to Mr. Tosic, "expresses itself in the protuberation of their own (Serbian) personalities". 3 For this reason, it is quite understandable why one finds among the Serbians so many "heroes" who have supposedly performed such "great deeds" in the past. However, this kind of narcissism is, unfortunately, not limited to the individual Serbian personalities. On a broader, national level, it has turned into a very pronounced national megalomania combined with a fabulous national mythology which has become at times very dangerous to all the Serbian neighbors. To verify this statement, which at first glance may appear fanciful, let us quote again a Serbian source, Mr. Tosic, who writes: "Aside from the unstableness, what strikes us particularly in our inner development is the megalomania of the majority of our so-called 'leaders' coupled with the mythology of those who are led. By the misrepresentation of facts, by the casting away of material truth, we not only squander our national forces but also destroy our national reputation in the outside world." 4 Mr. Tosic recognizes quite well the inevitable link between megalomania and the misrepresentation of facts, and he knows how seriously the present Serbian political leaders are given to the mental aberrations of deception, exaggeration and mystification. A recent manifestation of this spirit is the steady flow of nefarious propaganda from the Serbian exiled political leaders as well as the Serbian Communists in Yugoslavia against Cardinal Stepinac. 5 Both groups equally use lies, deceit and slander to defame that great champion of freedom and justice.

The Serbian books on history are another example of their propensity toward megalomania and mystification. For instance, a Serbian historian, Mr. M. S. Milojevic, has developed quite fantastic ideas about the Serbian people in his book on Serbian history. He writes: "The first movement and migration of the Serbian tribes was caused by the Chinese with whom they were incessantly at war for 3000-4000 years, until the Chinese pushed the contemporary Serbs to Siberia. From Siberia, the Serbians moved on, settling the countries around the Caspian, Azov and Black Seas, also the lands in Armenia, Russia and Germany, and partly in Sweden, Belgium and France. Another branch of the Serbian people... was pushed into Asia Minor and from there moved to the Balkan Peninsula, migrating after that to present Austria, Italy and Germany, where they found other Serbs... A third branch of the Serbians was pushed from India and went to present Africa, where they occupied new settlements and started to fight, similarly as in other conquered provinces. One part of the Serbs perished there, another part went to present Spain, France, etc.... A very small part of this Serbian branch conquered and pillaged Rome under the name of the Vandals, and after that they disappeared... The fact that once the Serbians settled the whole of Asia means that they once lived there as an independent and ruling nation." 6

This fantastic notion that the Serbians had once settled the whole of Asia, Europe and Africa is evidently a combined product of a very vivid imagination and extreme megalomania. Similar views can be found in many Serbian books, though not always in such extremely fanciful form. 7 Another Serbian historian and journalist, Mr. Sima Lukic-Lukin, in his book about the ancient Serbians, states that they were "the greatest people of the earth," "the strongest nation in the world," "immeasurably rich in population and endlessly extended," "they fertilized all the countries of Europe, Asia and Africa," "they built the tower of Babylon," they were "the nation, in which Christ himself was born!" 8 Such unbelievable exaggerations are quite typical of many Serbian books on history, politics, and culture. In all probability, the Serbians are the only people in the world who could produce and highly cherish a blasphemous song like the following:

"The Serbian heaven is of blue color,
In the heaven thrones God, the Serb,
Around him are the Serbian angels,
Honoring their God, who is a Serbian!" 9

Unfortunately for their neighbors, this is the spirit in which Serbian children have been educated. No wonder that numerous Serbians, indoctrinated with such fairy tales about their past, profoundly believe that the Serbian people, as the greatest people in the world, possess special qualifications to rule other peoples, particularly their neighbors, the Croatians, Macedonians, Albanians, Bulgarians, Hungarians, etc. They regard the Serbian army as invincible, the Serbian heroes as the greatest in the history of mankind. In Serbian opinion, only "a heinous conspiracy" of their neighbors, whom they all regard as their enemies, has prevented them from acquiring "their rightful place in the world" as the rulers of the Balkans. An ultranationalist Serbian song from the First World War contains the following lines about their King Peter:

"Uncle Peter is riding on a white horse,
And behind him marches the whole of America." 10

No wonder that the Serbian political leaders, suffering from a chronic case of megalomania, would like to make Serbia the leading nation if not in the world then at least in the Balkans. This ambitious program necessitates, of course, the subjugation of her neighbors. This is the reason of the constant threat to European peace by Serbia which sees herself as a legitimate successor of Byzantium. 11 This is equally true of a Royalist as of a Communist Serbia.

It is not too difficult to explain some of the reasons for the infantile traits in the Serbian national personality. Through centuries the Serbians have lived as rayahs, i.e. non-Moslem subjects of the Ottoman Sultan. They were subjected to innumerable discriminations and indignities. Their struggle with the Turks was very unequal, and they suffered from an inferiority feeling which they compensated after their liberation by a new superiority and megalomania complex. In an uneven fight with the superior Turks, deceit, cunning and dissimulation were the strongest weapons of the subjugated Serbian rayahs.

A Montenegrin leader, Dr. Sekula Drljevic, clearly recognized these defects of the Serbian national character. His entire life was spent fighting for a free Montenegro, and for this reason Serbian chauvinist Chetniks assassinated him and his wife, after the Second World War, in a refugee camp in Austria. In one of his articles, Mr. DrIjevic wrote: "Under the name 'podvala' (deception) there exists in Serbia a moral and ethical system, a religion. Serbia passionately believes in it. From the beginning of Serbia to the present, the whole public life of Serbia testifies to her unshaken belief in the power of deception." 12 However, the Serbian "podvala" is even more than deception. It means not only the portrayal of the adversaries or enemies in a false light, but also the imputation to them of the acts or qualities, performed or possessed by the slanderer himself. Mr. Drjevic describes many cases of Serbian deception in the past to prove his point. Among other things, he calls the well-known Serbian political leader, Nikola Pasic, a "Moses of the religion of deception." Under Pasic's leadership, Serbia has become the center of many conspiracies against adjacent countries, and the religion of deception has been transformed into a "grandiose political system." Substantially, the religion of deception was triumphant, according to Mr. DrIjevic, in the activities of the Serbian revolutionary organizations, the National Defense (Narodna Obrana) and the Black Hand (Crna Ruka), in the famous Friedjung trial (1909), in the Serbian conspiracies against Montenegro and her Duke Nicholas (1908), in the assassination of the Austrian, successor to the throne, Franz Ferdinand (Sarajevo, 1914) in the Declarations of Corfu (1917) and Geneva (1918), in the Saloniki trial (1918), etc., etc.

In the Serbian domestic life, this tendency to deception takes the form of decorative external window-dressing, concealing the real facts of life. Mr. Joza Kljakovic describes this in the following manner: "The Serbians, who are the most expressive continuation of Byzantium in the Balkans, have also changed everything into an outside decoration. Thus not only is their saint in the church a decoration but also their whole religion... Their praying is only a decoration, they pray with their mouth. Their laws are only decorations, nobody obeys them. Their Yugoslavianism is a decoration, they are Serbs. Their heroism is a decoration, they are Hajduks (bandits who fought the Turks). Their democracy too is a decoration, they are all totalitarians... Everything is a decoration and a lie." 13

The Serbian political and cultural leaders, - the Monarchists as well as the Fascists and the Communists, - use deception and mystification on a national and international scale. In the first Yugoslavia, they taught their children that the First World War was won because of the decisive blows the Serbian army had given to the Central Powers by their "victories" at the Saloniki front (the Myth of Kajmakcalan). According to this Serbian myth, the Western Allies had very little to do with the final victory. Furthermore, some Serbian leaders were able to persuade London and Paris, in 1939, that the Yugoslav army will defeat all its enemies. However, when the time for fighting came, in 1941, that army disintegrated within a few days. Today, the Serbian Communists speak in the same manner about 30 "invincible Communist divisions," and unfortunately, some gullible people believe again this story, disregarding completely the lessons of recent history. In addition to the Serbian Communists, many Serbian political exiles suffer from the same pathological condition, and their newspapers in exile are full of all kinds of narcissism, megalomania, mystification and deception. The previously mentioned Serbian writer, Mr. Desimir Tosic, is well aware of the tendency of the leading Serbian political groups to mystify world opinion. For this reason, he calls the attention of his fellow countrymen to the words of a Serbian scholar, Mr. Jovan Cvijic, who once said, "Don't think you can take in your adversaries, because they will make public your deceptions." 14 Hence, Mr. Tosic advises against the use of deceptions in the international field. In spite of this, Serbian political leaders in exile prefer their own propensity to mystification to Mr. Tosic's well-meant counsel. Not long ago, in 1951, some outstanding Serbian emigres (Mr. Adam Pribicevic, Branko Miljus, and Vlada Belajcic) sent to the United Nations Assembly a "Memorandum" directed against the Croatian people as a whole. That memorandum is crammed with lies, calumnies, misrepresentations, and outright slander. On the basis of the same memorandum, a book was published in Paris, in which the Croatian people and the Catholic Church, Cardinal Stepinac and the outstanding Croatian personalities, have been vilified in the lowest fashion. 15 This book is a shameful model of the Serbian religion of deception. Another similarly scurrilous example of it is a pamphlet published in England, and distributed in England and America by the professional anti-Catholic bigots and hatemongers. 16 It is openly admitted that in the publication of that pamphlet the Serbian Monarchists and the Serbian Communists have actively collaborated. Namely, the author acknowledges with gratitude the co-operation of the following Serbian groups or individuals: the government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in exile, under King Peter; the government of the Federal Peoples Republic of Yugoslavia, under Marshal Tito; the Orthodox Church of Yugoslavia; the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church for USA and Canada; Mr. Adam Pribicevic, Mr. Vladimir Belajcic, Mr. Branko Miljus, Mr. D. Mirkovic, Mr. M. Sekulic, etc. 17 For the true character of this bigoted publication it is very typical that all Croatian (Catholic and Moslem) sources are entirely disregarded, while the calumnious Serbian propaganda is accepted as "the whole truth." Moreover, most of that Serbian propaganda material was fabricated in the laboratories of Tito's infamous secret police (UDBA) with the purpose to vindicate the oppression of the Catholic Church in Croatia. 18 However, it is in the character of some of the Serbian political exiles that they are not at all ashamed to help the Communists in the abusive propaganda against the Croatian people and the Catholic Church. Thus, the common front of all the Serbians, from the Monarchists to the Communists, against all their neighbors, and particularly against the Croatians, is today a well-established, though regrettable, fact.

Serbian megalomania and their propensity to mystification go hand in hand with another of their unfortunate characteristics, i.e., their attempt to appropriate the material or immaterial possessions that have for centuries belonged to neighboring countries or peoples. Mr. L. v. Suedland explains this feature of the Serbian character by the fact that the Serbians are a mixture of Slavic peoples and of nomadic remnants of the old Romans who, after the decline of Rome, continued to live in the mountains of the Balkans as a nomadic, pastoral and predatory people (known as Vlachs or Wallachs). 19 He stresses, in his profound analysis of their nomadic traits, the following ideas: "In the national character of the Serbians the nomadic and rapacious character of mountain herdsmen is very well preserved... Wherever the Serbians appear as a political mass, the striving to appropriate goods belonging to others is too often the motive of their effort... Everything that the Croatians possess, Croatian lands, Croatian literature, is Serbian. The Croatians did not create anything during their history, only the Serbians did." 20 Without any shame Serbian writers and historians appropriate in their books Croatian lands, rulers, artists, poets, novelists, etc., and describe them as Serbians. In this sense, they have been always trying to influence the outstanding world encyclopedias, and also publications dealing with the problems of Southeastern Europe and the Balkans. Many books published in English, French and German are full of Serbian mystifications, imposed upon gullible and uninformed authors by the official "Yugoslav" agencies and information offices, or by the private or semi-private Serbian propagandists. 21

After getting acquainted through bitter experiences with the Serbian propensity to narcissism, megalomania and mystification, the Croatians do not wish, under any circumstances, to continue living with them in a second, or third, or any Yugoslavia. The Serbian mentality, as described here, is for them entirely undigestible. The Byzantine culture of Serbia and the Western culture of Croatia can never be reconciled in a common state organization. Professor Oscar Halecki remarks that what separates the Croats and the Serbs is not only religion. He writes: "No-where else in East Central Europe did the antagonism between Western and Eastern cultural trends prove stronger, even in the twentieth century." 22 Croatia and Serbia are two worlds which will never fully understand each other, and which can live in peace only when separated. In this respect, it may be important to mention that despite the varied and deep differences between Croatia and Serbia, there were no open clashes between them when they lived separated, each in their own state. Mr. Vlaho Raic, speaking about this fact, writes: "On the contrary, Tomislav (the first Croatian king, crowned in 925 A.D.) helped Serbia to withstand Bulgaria; later some Croatian nobles went to Kossovo to oppose, together with the Serbians, the Osmanli invasion... Only later when the Serbs rushed into Croatian lands, escaping the Turks or as their rayahs, their mutual intolerance manifested itself, and a deep antagonism of interests, tendencies and mentalities came to the fore." 23 Nevertheless, only after the creation of first Yugoslavia did these antagonisms receive the character of a really permanent enmity, and a struggle started which is apparently inherent in the very existence of a common Croatian-Serbian state. Of course, the separation of Croatia and Serbia is not expected to change by itself the Serbian character, but it will probably have an important moral significance and be beneficial to Europe as a whole. It may increase the amount of mutual tolerance in the Balkans, and it may prevent a further "Balkanization" of Europe which is a real threat to the Western democratic institutions and the Western mode of life.


1 In the booklet On the Borders of the West, (Buenos Aires, 1952, p. 10-11), the basic differences between the Croatians and the Serbians are described in the following way: "Nature separated the Croats from the Serbs, because the river Drina is not only the geographic boundary between Croatia and Serbia, but is also from the oldest times (since the Roman Emperor Theodosius in 395 A.D.) the dividing line between two civilizations and, as some philosophers believe, of two worlds. The Croats and the Serbs belong to different faiths, they use different alphabets, and belong to different, and diametrically opposed cultural spheres. As early as the 9th C. the Croats entered into the sphere of Western culture and, living in the closest contact with the West, they collaborated and deeply experienced the whole of the evolution of the Western Christian world. The Serbs, on the other hand, fell under the spell of Byzantine standards, and became an integral part of the Eastern cultural sphere."

2 Desimir Tosic, Srpski Nacionalni Problemi, (Paris: Ed. Oslobodenje, 1952), P. 215.

3 Ibid., p. 212.

4 Ibid., p. 222-223.

5 The short-sighted and jingoistic Serbian politicians will never forgive Cardinal Stepinac that as a Croatian he joined all his fellow Croatians in their desire for the complete independence of their country. Though condemning all acts of revenge and violence committed during the war, Cardinal Stepinac has again and again defended the idea of an independent Croatian state. Even at his "trial" in Zagreb Cardinal Stepinac stated the following: "The Croatian nation unanimously declared itself for the Croatian State and I would have been remiss had I not recognized and acknowledged this desire of the Croatian people enslaved by the former Yugoslavia" (Pattee, op. cit., p. 40.) Stepinac's courageous defense of Croatian independence has provoked a great hatred for him in the hearts of Serbian chauvinists, and this is one of the most important causes of their vicious propaganda against him.

6 M. S. Milojevic, Odlomci iz istoriie Srba, (Beograd: 1872), p. 4.

7 A modern example of this kind of literature is the Serbian daily, The American Srbobran, published in Pittsburgh, Pa., which from time to time prints similar stories about an imaginary Serbian greatness.

8 Sima Lukic-Lukin, Srbi u davnini, (Zagreb: 1894), p. 232.

9 This song has become an inherent part of Serbian national heritage. Their children must learn it by heart in the first grade of grammar school.

10 This King Peter was the grandfather of the present Serbian ex-King Peter.

11 The Byzantine infuences in Serbia are described by Mr. P.D. Ostovic in his book The Truth About Yugoslavia, (New York: Roy Publishers, 1952, p. 105. ff.), as follows: "The Croats, Roman Catholics, followed the Western, the Serbians, Greek Orthodox, followed the Eastern civilization of Europe. Broadly speaking, Eastern civilization is totalitarian, the Western democratic... The seed of the present East-West feud was sown sixteen centuries ago, and the plant is still growing... The Roman Church became supernational and universal. The Greek Church, though claiming universality, split into independent national churches... Dissimulation, intrigues, pretence and deceit were normal instruments of policy in Byzantine society, and were taken up by those who inherited its traditions... in free Serbia, corruption, violence and murder continued to be practiced..."

12 Dr. Sekula Drjevic, "Sumrak religije podvale," Hrvatski Narod, (Zagreb, Sept. 24, 1944j.

13 Jozo Kljakovic, U suvremenom kaosu, (Buenos Aires, 1952), p. 311.

14 Tosic, op. cit., p. 204.

15 Herve Lauriere, Assasins au nom de Dieu, (Paris: 1951)

16 Avro Manhattan, Terror over Yugoslavia, (London: 1953)

17 Ibid., P. IX.

18 Terror over Yugoslavia is not exercised, according to Mr. Manhattan, by the Communists and their secret police, but by the persecuted Catholic Church and the Croatian fighters for freedom. In short, in this slanderous book the victims have been portrayed as "terrorists," and the persecutors as "victims."

19 In addition to nomadic Vlachs, the urban Tsintsars (Cincari) have contributed a great deal to the shaping of Serbian national personality. The Vlachs and Tsintsars are of the same mixed ethnic origin, and belong to the same Orthodox religion which has largely facilitated their assimilation into Serbian society. In Croatia, the members of the Serbian national minority are, for the most part, of Vlach origin. The Tsintsars comprise the upper social class in most Serbian cities, the so-called carsija. The Tsintsars are best known as merchants and bankers. Because of their former status as a more or less suppressed minority, the Vlachs and the Tsintsars have developed many negative characteristics, which have gradually become, to a great extent, an important part of Serbian national life. So is, for instance, the carsija of Belgrade made up predominantly of Tsintsars who have greatly affected Serbian political, cultural and economic developments. According to a Serbian scholar, Mr. D. I. Popovic, the Tsintsars possess the following characteristics: prudence, brightness, determination, materialism, narrowness, hypocrisy, egotism, ambition, perfidy, cynism, cleanness, etc., (D. I. Popovic, O Cincarima, Beograd: 1937, and Hrvatska Enciklopedija, Zagreb: 1942, vol. III, p. 771. ff.) This Tsintsar mentality has been an indelible feature of the Serbian political life in the first and second Yugoslavia. (See more about Vlachs and Taintears in: Dr. Vatroslay Murvar, Hrvatska i Hrvati, "Croatia" Cult. Publishing Center, Chicago: 1953), and Sava M. Stedimlija, Auf dem Balkan, Putovi, (Zagreb: 1943).

20 L v. Suedland, Jugoslavensko pitanje, (Zagreb: Matica Hrvatska, 1943), p. 183-184.

21 A typical example of this is a reputably looking but really scandalous, pro-Tito book. published under the name of Yugoslavia and edited by a Mr. Robert J. Kerner, (Berkely and Los Angeles: University of California Press: 1949). Mr. Leigh White calls it "a pro-Tito symposium" (The Balkan Caesar, New York: Schribner's Sons, 1951, p. 51). In this half-scholarly and half-propagandist book about Yugoslavia, truth is intertwined with half-truths and un-truths, and even with the usual Serbian misrepresentations and mystifications. Croatian viewpoints are disregarded. Moreover, some of the misinformed authors had been probably unaware of the fact that they were giving a onesided and untrue picture. In the selected bibliography, Croatian works or books sympathetic to the Croatian people, are, with few exceptions, conspicuously absent. Mr. Harry N. Howard, a professor of history, in his "Chronology of Historical Evolution," declares that the great Croatian poet Marko Marulic was "a Serbian (?) nobleman from Split", that the Croatian poet Hanibal Lucic wrote Robinja, the oldest drama in Serbian (?) literature, that the Croatian poet Petar Hektorovic is "a Dalmatian poet", who wrote "in Serbian" (?), etc., etc. (p. 444.) All this is just as fantastically untrue as if somebody in Croatia wrote that Mark Twain was a great Mexican writer, and Shakespeare a great French dramatisfl? There is hardly a single article in that book which is not under the influence of some Serbian mystification. It is very deplorable that a Serbian jingoism of a very vicious sort has found its way into this book, published by such a reputable publisher. It is even more unfortunate that in it Serbian chauvinism has been mixed, in some places, with an uncritical glorification of Tito's undemocratic and Communist regime.

22 Oscar Halecki, Borderlands of Western Civilization, (New York: The Roland Press Company, 1952), p. 402.

23 Vlaho Raic, Hrvatska i Srbija, (Buenos Aires, 1953), p. 17.