Monday, February 6, 2012

Deretic Against Porphyrogenitus: Advantages of Guerrilla Warfare


Serbs were a Slavic tribe that settled in Macedonia at the beginning of the 7th century, invited by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. They didn’t like it there and decided to make a U-turn and ride back to the unknown parts of Central Europe - Bohemia, most likely - that they came from. As they were passing Singidunum, they changed their mind and asked the Byzantine commander of the fortress to broker another deal with the Emperor and give them another land to settle. Heraclius obliged and directed them to Dalmatia. This is according to Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, a Byzantine Emperor from the 10th century, who wrote it in De Administrando Imperio, the most relevant source about the origins of the Serbs. Can anyone with a bit of knowledge of historical circumstances at various times actually believe this? How many of these Porphyrogenitus’ Serbs were there, fifty, no women and children? I mean, expecting me to believe that an entire people could move this fast and this large in numbers, on horses or on foot is plain offensive to my intelligence, let alone economically impossible.  But this is what’s become the official Serbian history kids learn in school. 

A people’s history is what shapes its identity, for the most part. Not knowing your history means not knowing who you are and why you are the way you are; in other words, it means not knowing your own self.  Serbs, so proud of their history, appear to have generally known very little of it. Entire premises that our understanding of our own past is mainly based on, stand on very shaky legs, are easy to challenge and should be revisited and revised, if found false.
I am not going to dissect and try and overthrow the Serbian historical delusions. The point I want to base this diatribe of mine on is that the Serbian history, including its oldest periods, is crucial in crystalizing dimensions and components of our identity, that these delusions were a great contributor to the Serbian disorientation of the present and that an effort must be made to renew the study of our history earnestly, honestly and scientifically, to identify and remedy the errors, even it meant revising the entire school of historical thought.
While understanding the ancients’ lack of sources and a lack of knowledge of the world beyond Greek colonies of the Pontus and Danube, I cannot accept or condone historical fabrications intended to fill this vacuum. The fabrications, generalizations, misinterpretations and substitutions, so outrageously abundant, are especially unacceptable in the light of the political motivation behind them. And of course, there has hardly ever been historical knowledge, and especially a lack thereof, that wasn’t manipulated to political ends. I know this because I and all my contemporaries are witnesses to the manipulation and fabrication of information going on presently. If a Serb in Belgrade in 2012, influenced by a set of fabrications, has a hard time believing that the Army of the Serb Republic did not commit genocide in Srebrenica only 16 years ago, how can we ever expect that the events of 1500 years ago haven’t been misconstrued and one point or another to serve a political purpose?
The central question of the Serb origins deals with the determination of whether Serbs were native to the Roman province of Illyricum or we settled it as invaders. This is a watershed question as the correct answer to it opens a truckload of conclusions that undermine the entire established school of not only Serbian history, but of our understanding of the Late Antiquity and the Great Migrations. Assessing historical sources and conclusions about this period necessarily lead to Jovan I. Deretic, the standard-bearer of the so-called ''Serbian historical school.'' Deretić claims that Serbs are the autochtonous people of the Balkans and the oldest civilized people of Europe. He added to the Serbian history entire eras, stretching back to the Vinča civilization of the 6th millenium B.C. I won't even touch trying to prove or disprove his theories, not necessarily because I agree or disagree. All I can say is that I strongly support his challenges and accusations directed towards the official version of the history of Serbs, although I do have a thing or two to object to his chosen ways.
The information age didn't start with the advent of new technology. It's a trick played on the common people to make them think they are more informed now because their access to more voluminous and diverse sets of information is easier and more versatile.  The points of this access have indeed multiplied in numbers, but so have the controls of the access points. The relationship between the access points and their controls is under an investigation that is greatly influenced by those same controls. Essentially, we are still being fed the information about our world, no matter how many different capabilities, aiding us towards obtaining the feed, we have acquired in the meantime. The basic assumption of Deretic's “historical school” is that the Serbs have been fed their own historical data and conclusions from sources unfriendly, even hostile to our identity and our integrity as a nation. Of course, we know who our historical enemies were and we must assume that a physical obliteration has not been the only manner in which they have tried to subjugate us. In accord with some of my earlier writings, one of the key problems of the Serbian psyche is that we are not capable of seeing an enemy assault until it manifests itself physically, which often is too late. This being said, Deretić correctly proposes reconsideration of the value of information about our own self that we have been fed in the past and that we have based the knowledge of our history on, mainly because our enemies have been providing us with that information and that fact alone should make the reconsideration a must. One has to be stupid to take the information provided by an enemy for granted, right?
Thus far in this diatribe, I have stood by Deretić and his frame of thought. Where we differ is crucial. Deretić came up with a whole alternative version of the Serbian history, intending to replace the knowledge generations of Serbs acquired. According to him, everything the young Serbs have been taught since the Berlin Congress of 1878 was based on false premises stemming from falsified, misinterpreted or incomplete historiography. Where we differ and what I oppose is the way he has chosen to attempt the substitution.
I do want future generations of Serbs to learn their history presented in as accurate a manner as possible. Now, we don’t have to know what’s impossible to know and we don’t have to present a clear picture if the clear picture just isn’t available. For that reason, an attempt to entirely replace one, dominant and standing version, albeit built on shaky foundations, with another version, which, I have to notice, possesses some fairy tale-like traits, points towards amateurism in both historical methodology and strategic negotiation of educational and marketing hurdles. Needless to say, the confirmation of the latter amateurism calls into question the strength of the building blocks of the Serbian historical school as a whole. If Deretić is going about educating the public and marketing his findings in an amateurish way, how could we take him for his word that he went about his research in a scientific way? If I have a reason to doubt efficiency of the educational approach, it will lead me to doubt the validity of the historical research the theory as a whole was based on.
The official version of the Serbian history is not only accepted by most of the living and educated Serbs, but also by the relevant international scholarship, as no people’s history is an island. It is not simple to overthrow it. No substitute can take its place in a meaningful and lasting way until the standing theory is overthrown, however. Of course, a change in the political climate can lead to a ruling political option imposing one theory over the other, but isn’t that what Deretić claims happened in 1878? Does he propose his version to come to dominate in the same way? Does such an overthrow make his version more legitimate just because he will support it with a set of data and notions that will go unchallenged? How does that make him different from Stojan Novaković, whom he accuses of planting the Trojan Horse that became this official version? It doesn’t.
I know he’d say that he disproved every one of the historical fallacies we have been taught, and that alone makes his version legitimate. Even if he did so, which relevant scientific or educational circles have accepted his claims, his research and his version? To many quite educated Serbs, his claims sound off the wall, and I don’t mean it in any kind of derogatory or condescending way. Confronting an established historical knowledge, accepted by almost entire relevant scholarship for over a century and taught in school for generations, with an alternative version of that knowledge that, honestly, does sound far-fetched in many of its elements, is not a very good strategy. Deducing that every place name in Europe and Middle East containing an S and an R in a sequence somehow has Serb associations attached to it is plain linguistically unfounded and indeed amateurish. Deretić should have first attempted to overthrow fallacies in the official version through a scientific debate acceptable by the relevant mainstream historians. Many of his claims do sound legitimate and valid and are logical, if isolated from this greater theory, but it is hard for me to accept the greater theory whose other elements are just far-fetched and grounded in premises that are not solid. The Serbian public first had to accept the logic by which Dušan’s Empire did include Bulgaria, that Serbs did win the battle of Kosovo, that there were evidences of tampering with the relevant chapters of Porphyrogenitus’ De Administrando Imperio… These specific notions had to be adopted, had to enter textbooks, in order for the official version to be undermined further. A series of small battles had to be won before someone like Deretić could become an authority that could claim the entire official version of the Serbian history is based on false premises. A gradual conquest of the field would have accelerated the acceptance of the very idea that there was something inherently wrong about what we have been taught. Trying to overthrow the official version from the position of weakness, Deretić only caused further confusion in the mind of common people. He has his followers, but are they going to be capable of effectively furthering his war for historical revision or will they just be another current in the Serbian ocean of incoherent ideologies? Are they just going to parrot his findings until veins pop out?
Strategically undermining rather than frontally assaulting the enemy is the main trait of the guerrilla warfare. The Serbian historical school is incomparably weaker than the official version, the so-called Berlin-Vienna school, and some form of guerrilla warfare would be the only manner in which a gradual substitution may take place. ‘’Substitution’’ is probably too strong a word; ‘’merging’’ of the versions in which fallacies get scientifically removed is the optimal way. Serbo Makeridov should be left for some future generations of archaeologists and historians to search for.
Finding of the Serbian organic self would be greatly expedited by filtering through our history, weeding out fallacies and confirming what can be confirmed. An arrival to more solidly founded conclusions would strengthen our belief in who we are, which in turn, would do wonders for the purification and reorientation of our national being. Proving, for example, that we, as Serbs, or under another name, did live in our historical lands before the 7th century, that the arrival of smaller or larger number of Slavs or some other invaders under other names were just additions to our nominal, racial and cultural definition, that our ancestors, born in Sirmium, Salona or Naissus actually got to rule as Roman emperors, would solidify our historical rights to our lands, better our understanding of historical cycles and improve our functioning in unity and in our surroundings. In order for this rise in consciousness to occur, the true history has to penetrate Serbian minds from the earliest age, through formal education, and that can be accomplished only if both the fallacies and the truth are officially accepted as such. Positing the two versions like Deretić did, as standing against one another, in confrontation, in mutual denial, the official one way stronger the one challenging it, only did a disfavor to the effort to recognize the organic self, by dividing the Serbian public further and facing it with a referendum on its own history.


Gray Falcon said...

I find this topic truly fascinating, even more so as I am a historian by education. A lot of what people consider history was just flat-out made up in the 1800s, and is filled with assertions and assumptions that simply can't be backed by evidence - yet are not contested from sheer inertia.

Yet we can see how the process of writing false history unfolds, just by tracking the events of the past two decades, and the attempts to misrepresent them (i.e. the "official truth"). It's a sobering exercise, for those who dare try it.

There are things that need doing to ensure the short-term survival of the Serbs as a nation, but delving into history and cutting out the lies and fabrications is going to be necessary if we're to have any long-term prospects. At the very least, our understanding of the 20th century needs a major revision.

After that, digging through the more distant past can slowly become a more academic pursuit, as opposed to a question of life and death.

Srbo said...

I proposed reaping low-hanging fruit, i.e. premises easier to attack and undermine, instead going after the entire scope. If certain premises fall, the scope will follow. To go back into the 6th millenium BC and make claims, even if they are based on half-way reliable evidence, is unwise and strategically hard to justify. By doing that, Deretic left his body wide open to blows. Instead of putting himself in a position of constant jabbing at the standing theory, he's now forced to defend his own theory that's not even widely known, let alone accepted. I may sound too harsh on Deretic, when he's a rare person that made an effort, but beyond just stating theories and findings, a smart strategy is needed to educate the public and the academia.

GORAN M said...

I have read your blog for a while & although I do not agree with all your opinions, I do enjoy reading it.

First I would like to ask what this blogpost is based on. I see a picture of Dr. Deretic’s book Serbi – narod I rasa (Serbs – a people & race) is this blog post. If this is all this post is based on then I can understand your views.

My main criticism of this piece is that it is overly critical about Dr. Deretic’s work. Serbs in general are to self critical & although self criticism has become somewhat of heritage, let me explain why I think you & my respective fellow commentators are being to critical.

Ever since his first work came out about Serbian history in 1975, Dr Deretic has always stated that his works about Serbian history have been an evolving process. This book came out in 1996 & his works have since then been revised & the various criticisms (not just from this blog) of his works have since been addressed.

In recent years he started presenting his work to the Serbian public (mainly in Novi Sad) & his lectures have been steadily showing the depth of not only his research, but of other historians like, Dragoljub p. Antic, Slobodan Jarcevic & Milan Nikolic, who’s works alongside those of Dr Deretic have stirred up some commotion in Germany & Russia.

I would also like to add that Dr. Deretic’s views are not technically his own. If one reads the various sources he uses, people will see that Dr. Deretic’s views are those of various historians from various ages but mostly those between the years of 300 & 1700. Why is that for a millennium & a half various historians from various countries & peoples respectively have claimed a almost completely different view of historical events is laughed at & dismissed ,but the works of a few Vatican & German ‘’historians’’ in the 18th & 19th centuries is almost sacrosanct & for the most part virtually untouchable?

I do not want to go to deeply in Dr Deretic’s work right now since that can be debated for years, but I hope that well since hundreds of historians (not just Serbian ones & the list is growing) in the world agree with his work, Serbs one day soon can accept it as well

PS his full lectures can be found online as well not just those snippets of it on youtube.

Srbo said...

First, thanks for reading the blog and for commenting in such an informative and balanced way.
Second, to answer your initial question, I mainly intended to criticize Deretic's educational strategies, not his findings, although some of his theories look unfounded too. By educational, I mean the strategies he chose to overthrow the official version. I strongly agreed with his motivation and with the need to straighten things up, so to say. I wasn't discussing points he's made, both because it'd take volumes of writing and because I'm not going to be arrogant and pretend I'm qualified. Generally, I support his logic as it corresponds to my substantial knowledge and understanding of historical circumstances. In short, I value Deretic's findings and respect his effort. Images I've chosen were editorial picks of associative, decorative and suggestive nature.
Third, I know Deretic is not merely throwing around random findings and narratives and that his research involved legitimate, however underutilized, historical sources. I absolutely accept the notion that the truth has been replaced by half-truths or outright lies due to political motivations.
All I advocated for was a revised educational strategy. No matter how strong his research and his argumentation are, the official strategy is standing, it has been taught in school for over a century, if not more. A strategy other than a head-on attack is necessary to overthrow it.

Srbo said...

Let's look at it from another angle. Let's forget about how strong Deretic's findings are, or Lukovic-Pjanovic's, even Milojevic's for that matter. Let's just posit an incumbent theory A against a challenging theory B. We have the A theory that includes periods from the 7th century on, based on premises accepted by and relevant to not only the mainstream of the Serbian historical studies, but to the European history as a whole. You have to admit, it is very difficult to convince the Germans and the Italians that the Great Migrations didn't bring the Langobards to the Italian peninsula. I'm not saying it's not true, only that it's very difficult to convince historians, even if they are open-minded. The Great Migrations is a major premise of the European history. In order to even approach it from the position of relevancy as a participant of that discussion, a historian had to have proven himself or herself by overthrowing lesser historical premises, like the one about Serbs winning the Kosovo battle, i.e. the low-hanging fruit. Not only that Deretic didn't finish the work on that finite minor subject, he seemingly went to the other extreme and entered in claims that the Serbs were the oldest people in Europe, as well as many other associated notions.
To place vague claims that the archaeological or anthropological findings show continuity in demographics of today's Serb lands is one thing; this would show that today's Serbs mainly descend from the people that lived on our land in the 6th millennium BC. To claim with any certainty that such people had some kind of an all-encompassing ethnic name and it actually was a Serb-related etymological derivation just stretches the imagination outside of the realm of a scientific conversation and undermines the legitimacy of the very claimant, thus undermining even his other claims, which otherwise would have merit and would have a chance to be discusses seriously, in a scientific way.
Deretic's B theory possesses elements that render it illegitimate from the perspective of the mainstream historians that are supposed to accept them. (I'm not even always sure who Deretic expected this theory to be accepted by.) In other words, he attacked the foundation of the European historical knowledge accepted by the very audience he expected to change its mind.
The problem I personally have is that by proposing his theory without first undermining and overthrowing premises of the official theory, Deretic offers an alternative that further confuses the already confused Serbian mind. Now, us civilians have to choose between the two theories, vote as in a referendum, and select one at the expense of the other. We are supposed to still send our kids to school where they will learn the official version, but we should whisper in their ear that what they learn in school is not actually the truth.
I believe my criticism is objective and can't be seen as following the trend of Serbian habitual self-critiquing. I'm open to convincing, but Deretic made an error in educating me and hasn't convinced me that his complete theory is right.

Anonymous said...

A theory is our best explanation at the time. Dr Deretić has proposed his theory. He has placed the onus on the rest of scholars interested in that topic to find contradictions and if such contradictions with known facts cannot be accommodated by modifying his theory then and only then is the theory abandoned.
The acceptance of the theory is totally inconsequential to whether or not it is correct or not. Recall that Ptolemaic Geocentric theory never became a law even though it was accepted for 14 centuries,when Copernicus dared to contradict it. Why look for ways to criticize when the time could be better spent taking one of his sources at a time and check out for ourselves.
Dr Dederić did not express an opinion and called it his theory but rather proposed an explanation based on the best evidence he could find. Show that his evidence is false.

Srbo said...

Well, the proponents of the official theory that Deretic attacked can say the same: we are here, we rule, we teach your children, dethrone us. The official theory is the incumbent, it needs to be deposed. You can't say: prove Deretic wrong. Why would anyone wants to prove something marginal and largely irrelevant to be wrong? (I don't think a lot of his findings are irrelevant, but from the perspective of the mainstream historians, Deretic is marginal and irrelevant because he hasn't made his way into a battle with them yet.)

Anonymous said...

Slavs in Europe 3000-4000 years ago based in science.,394140,the-ancestors-of-the-slavs-could-be-in-europe-4-thousand-years-ago.html

Perseis said...

I am of belief that future genetic research will reveal the dna heritage of a serbian population. I will assume that Serbian people are open Balkans since Neolithic period, however, there were genetic mixing through the millennia. To produce a very reliable data archeology , genealogy, history and other sciences will have to be employed. I myself am a Serbian and have contact with different serbian communities. Serbs from Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro have significantly different physical appearances from Serbians from Serbia. Time and sience will confirm that what was was once lectured inSerbian school is and ever was a lie constructed in Berlin in 1875. Cheers