With the culture of remembrance, we fight against the revision of history. This is the instrument of “soft diplomacy” – reliable facts which advise us and never forgets your old friends.
This is best demonstrated by the fact that a boulevard located at Belgrade Waterfront was recently named after the 28th president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson; that in June, at the Faculty of Philology the 830th anniversary of the meeting of Friedrich Barbarossa and Stefan Nemanja in Niš in 1189, that the 18th Prime Minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney, received from Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dačić the diploma for “Best Serbian Son-In-Law of All Time”; that in institutions of higher education in Belgrade and Jerusalem, Serbian-Jewish centres were opened.
All of these events are joined by the same thread. Serbian career diplomats prepared the terrain for these events last year, as a legacy for the future, which should strengthen connections with other states and the nations with which we already have good relations, re-establish ties which have been weakened, build new bonds, and serve as a reminder of all of the old alliances and friendships.
Each event is part of the defence of the culture of remembrance, which represents the foundation of our national identity.
What isn’t recorded didn’t happen. What is not shown to others, what is not underscored – all of that is forgotten. Anniversaries are a chance to represent our cultural and historical wealth as an important diplomatic instrument in the protection of the interests of the Serbian nation, which faces great challenges and fights against baring the “cross of a genocidal nation”, which is imposed by certain centres.
As the Head of the Department for Migratory Policy, Diaspora, and Social Agreements, as well as the coordinator for the preservation of diplomatic traditions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I had the honour of becoming the first career diplomat in the history of modern Serbian diplomacy to receive the title of the Knight of the Order of the Dragon for diplomatic achievements.
Last year was the centennial of the Treaty of Versailles and the modern diplomatic archive, the 180th anniversary of the founding of the Office for Foreign Affairs of the Principality – May 29 is now celebrated as the Day of Serbian Diplomacy, and 790 years since the first pilgrimage of St Sava to the Holy Land.
Serbian diplomacy follows in the footsteps of the diplomacy of the pacifism of St Sava and that is why I am particularly proud of the recent diplomatic mission of the return of St Sava to the Holy Land, during which identity was re-established and “academic bridges” between Serbs and Jews were built.
Last year, our diplomats also continued to strengthen the bond between Israel and Serbia. One of the leading Holocaust researchers, Dr Gideon Greif, heads both Serbian-Jewish centres.
As a permanent collaborator with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the publisher Knjiga Komerc achieved the feat of the year and presented at the last Belgrade Book Fair a total of 10 books of national interest, amongst them the trilogy by Dr Greif, which contains around 2,500 pages of documents.
The Ustasha Final Solution before the Nazi Solution is 1,000 pages of authentic documents, without commentary. These documents prove that the Ustasha final solution started six months before the Nazis’ campaign against the Jews. Aloysius Stepinac Modus Operandi: Convert or Die gives 54 points about why Stepinac cannot be canonised. Also published was a new edition, in Cyrillic, of the book Jasenovac – the Auschwitz of the Balkans.
An academic round table on Serbian-Israeli relations and a memorial for Jasenovac was scheduled for in November in Jerusalem and had been on the agenda for some time, however, there were unexpected situations like the missile attacks from Gaza (which almost brought about the cancellation of the event), the illness of Professor Greif, and, above all, the spread of disinformation from circles that are leading a “war against remembrance” in the Balkans.
This is easy when there is a well-trodden path and when circumstances are favourable, but when a new route needs to be found, then a diplomat gets the chance to show one’s mettle, and I have taken that challenge.
The persistent nurturing of the culture of remembrance is the best defence against false accusations and the manipulation of facts. This is the instrument of soft diplomacy, which crosses red lines and softens rigid views as these are things that are not possible to dispute, they are proven facts from the past and they are a warning – to not reject old friends and allies.
The Serbian nation is, in fact, a nation that in the 20th century suffered genocide twice, not to mention the previous terrors of Ottoman rule.
We should remind people more frequently of the words of Victor Hugo, who in 1876 in the magazine Le Rapel published an article “For Serbia” (especially mentioning the massacre in Aleksinac) – “They are killing a nation. Where? In Europe. Is there anyone to testify about it? There is one witness. The whole world. Do governments see this? No, they do not.”
The culture of remembrance is particularly important in this age of historical revisionism, when, for example, Serbian churches and monasteries in Kosovo and Metohija are called ‘Byzantine’ and the Nemanjić family are made out to be an Albanian family known as Nimani.
The cultural and historical legacy and identity code of the Kosovo pledge is the basis for the defence of Kosovo and Metohija and the protection of the interests of Serbia. These are presented through a series of facts that everybody in the world can understand, like the repeated words of President Woodrow Wilson during World War I – “Celebrate Kosovo Day as a Day of Honour.”
The activities regarding the withdrawal of recognition of Kosovo, led by Foreign Minister Daćić, is very effective and proves that there are no processes in diplomacy that cannot be reversed.
These are processes that do not take place in a day or two, especially in light of the growing trend towards revisionism that comes from certain centres which spread lies and disinformation on the role of Serbs in the past.
Unfortunately, there is a worrying trend in certain Serbian circles to reject our cultural and historical heritage, traditions, and narratives. More and more we can hear the idea that Serbs should not look towards the past and that there is a necessity to change the collective identity.
The Battle of Kosovo is called ‘Serbian mytho-mania’ and tangential to Serbian history. All of this is very counterproductive at a time when activities regarding the withdrawal of recognition are underway and is especially unfitting as it’s coming from within, weakening our position in negotiations.
Regarding this matter, we should learn from the Jews, who, for thousands of years, have preserved their identity code. The Battle of Masada, which took place some 70 years after Christ’s death, was the event when 960 Jewish insurgents, surrounded by the powerful Imperial Roman Army, decided to commit mass suicide.
The Israeli Army annually organises manoeuvers at the very location of the battle, with the oath: “Masada, never again.” Masada is today a part of the cultural heritage of mankind, it is protected by UNESCO and one can be sure that for the Jews it is not a celebration of the past, of defeat and suicide, but “a moral vertical” and “sacrifice”.
For all of Serbia, the Battle of Kosovo is our Masada and Kosovo is our Jerusalem.
Besides difficult topics and sometimes confrontational conversations, diplomacy has moments of glamour and exclusivity, when members of the jet-set crowd gather. Even these moments, however, are preceded by long and hard work.
I greeted the Mulroneys, who flew to Serbia on board a private jet, after many days of preparation and assistance from Boba Pivnički, the mother of Milica (Mila) Mulroney. The Mulroneys, who were the first family of Canada from 1984 to 1993, visited Serbia in late October.
The daughter of Serbian immigrants, Milica was awarded the medal of Knight of the Pacifism of St Sava as a distinguished member of Serbian diaspora. At the same time, the municipality of Novi Bečej, in collaboration with me, published the book Mila’s Ancestral Land – the Pivnički Family in the History of Novi Bečej.
During their visit to Serbia, the Mulroneys visited various places, mostly away from the eyes of the press, but I always accompanied them and it was both a privilege and honour of distinction to have received a card of recognition for my professionalism and diplomatic skill by the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, the legendary leader of the GH7 and who has worked with top diplomats from the US State Department, Britain’s Foreign Office and who has been received many times at Buckingham Palace.
At the end of their stay, referring to the dynamic programme of the visit, the Right Honourable Mulroney complimented me by saying that if I would accept the position of head of his election campaign, he would still be the prime minister. During the visit, Madame Mila Pivnicki Mulroney planted a tree of friendship and agreed to allow the family home of the Pivničkis to become the Museum of the Serbian diaspora.
A tree of friendship was also planted by the descendant of Mihajlo Pupin, Justina Pupin, and Canadian retired general Lewis McKenzie, who once led the UNPROFOR forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina. General McKenzie also used his time in Serbia to promote his book Peacekeeper (only published in Serbian after 20-25 years, again as a result of my efforts) at the Belgrade Book Fair.
Mila Mulroney, General McKenzie, and Jelka Aćimović, an activist from the Kolo Srpskih Sestara (Circle of Serbian Sisters) from Montreal, all visited the Institute for Oncology and talked about the effects of exposure to depleted uranium with Dr Čikarić and General Petrović, from the Association for the Fight Against Cancer. This was not reported by Serbian media, nor was the touching meeting of the Mulroneys with the family of the widow and mother of eleven, Maja Kovačević, from Kraljevo.
The meeting was organised to counterbalance the sad images from the children’s ward at the Institute for Oncology. As this brave family was in need of a well, Mulroney, a successful businessman in his own right, donated the money for the well. Reserved at first, Brian started singing at the banquet, proving he still has a good voice (some years ago he recorded an album with his favourite songs).
The Mulroneys left Serbia with their hearts uplifted and with the idea to purchase a penthouse in Belgrade Waterfront for their son Mark, who feels strong ties to Serbia.