Karađorđe Petrović, Stanoje Glavaš, Janko Katić and Vasa Čarapić were hunted men in 1804 when they got together in the village of Orašac and decided to fight for their lives and to put a stop to centuries-old oppression and occupation. They were also elites; they were peasant elites of a peasant people that rose against the enslavement, against all odds, with the only assistance coming from the Serb leaders from outside the Ottoman Empire, almost as enslaved as they were. On the shoulders of these giants, the Serbian liberation and unification was to be carried out and it almost was.
The Fifteenth of February was to Serbia what the Fourth of July was to the United States. The Manifest Destiny of the North American English elites is still being pursued, only not in the Appalachian, where it began, but in the Hindu Kush, where many such enterprises met their end. Karađorđe’s covenant was broken by his great-grandson in 1918, when he misunderstood it. Could that be the reason Serbia, restored in 2006 to its 1878 borders - de facto - celebrates its birthday so shyly? (Although it doesn’t change the sentiment of this article, it should be clarified that Serbia’s Statehood Day unites both the memory of the First Serbian Uprising in 1804 and the adoption of the Sretenje Constitution on this day in 1835. The Sretenje Constitution was one of the first democratic constitutions in Europe, but it was abolished due to the pressure from the Ottoman government, as Serbia was still not fully independent.)
Let’s get back on track… On the Fourth of July, the sky between the Atlantic and the Pacific is covered in blue, red and white, in stars and stripes, and in fireworks. You just know it’s someone’s birthday. Everybody and their mother parade under some kind of a patriotic banner. Every July, Hollywood, that Parthenon of the American culture, pops out another creation full of American nationalist chest-bumping. And that is the way it should be. Tell a Vietnam veteran - who fought a lost war and probably got spat on and called a baby-killer when he came back - that it is pathetic to celebrate the loyalty to his country and you better duck or run, because he’d be reaching for his gun rack instantly. Any geezer that charged the Omaha Beach in 1944 will punch you in the face if you insult his sacrifice and show anything but respect for the causes his comrades jumped the machine gun nests for. Serbia celebrates her memory of heroes by cowardly questioning and impeding the democratic right of the Kosovo Serbs to decide their own fate in the face of extermination and while standing at the Alamo of Serbdom in the 21st century. Should Karađorđe come alive, he'd puke before dispatching many a Serb to the eternal hunting-grounds for treason, cowardice and plain thievery. Oh, wait, this Serbia would send him to the Hague before he could draw his cutlass out.
Granted, Jefferson and Washington are probably turning in their graves looking up at what has become of the society they helped found, but the state they delivered still at least pretends to be standing on the principles they set. Boris Tadić’s Serbia cannot even fool itself into thinking it stands for anything its founding fathers, Karađorđe and knez Miloš, set the course for. Whether thrusting his sword into the occupier's flesh like Black George did, or weaseling and bribing his way into freedom like Miloš Obrenović did (after the heroic victories in the battles of Dublje and Ljubić, to be just), the common denominator was in that they both acted to make crucial gains for Serbia and Serbia did gain, up until 1918.
I know, Serbia that was restored in 2006 is not Serbia of the Sretenje Constitution of 1935. I know the 90 years of the cancer called Yugoslavia and the 45 years of the plague called communism have eaten away at the Serbian brain and heart and it is not easy to recover from such blows. But the people in power should expedite the healing process, not keep throwing wrenches in it.
Karađorđe has been a dead man for 200 years, and so has been George Washington, but to negate his greatness, his true significance while he lived and acted and his symbolic significance today, is not only embarrassing and humiliating, but unbecoming of a progressive nation. By shying away from a full-blown national celebration of the nation’s birthday and of the greats that delivered the people from the chains of oppression, Boris Tadić’s government is indeed diminishing their greatness. Of course, the Americans have never negated Washington’s greatness and, in fact, they built themselves into a superpower because their state-building generations propped themselves up on the shoulders of their giants, like Washington and Jefferson, and continued on their course by furthering the sensible nationalist ambition the Founding Fathers embodied. And what has become of Karađorđe's and Miloš's vision? A gay parade in Belgrade draws more attention from media, supporters and opponents, and state agencies, i.e. the police, than the Statehood Day. The Statehood Day is marked by museum expositions, medal reception ceremonies and wreath-laying, all accompanied by cocktail hours in which mentions of the heroic past this day should celebrate are considered party pooping by the elbow-rubbing hypocrites and sycophants in attendance.
But where is the people of Serbia in this embarrassment? It is the people's holiday, after all. Serbia of 1804 was ruled by the Ottoman oppressors, and Karađorđe, Jakov Nenadović and Milenko Stojković were the people that rose against that oppression. The people do not need the state to throw their birthday party. Where are the patriotic parties and organizations? Where are the Serbian nationalists? Did they succumb to be represented by a bunch of outraged youngsters who saw in the shy celebration yet another opportunity to rebel and ridicule their irresponsible and cowardly elders? It took 16 years of booing and mocking to bring back the Serbian national anthem Bože, pravde, so I guess yesterday's incident at Marićevića Jaruga (the location of the Orašac meeting in which one of yesterday’s commemorations was held; translates as the Gully of Marićević or the Ditch of Marićević, i.e. of Teodosije Marićević, the host of the meeting) is going to have to be repeated for many years to have any effect. OK, Serbia is several feet deep in snow, but do you cancel your national birthday celebration because of weather elements? Are you proud of any bit of your history, my Serbian brothers and sisters? If Dino Merlin - whom I'm ashamed to mention in this context, but I have to – can fill the Belgrade Arena with Serbs, his mental patients, three times over, why can't Karađorđe, who fired the bullet that killed the beast to set us free? (If the Americans had Karađorđe and Hajduk Veljko, Hollywood wouldn't need to invent William Wallace and the studios would kill for such stories.)
I’ll tell you where the real patriots were yesterday and the day before. The seventy five percent of the North Kosovo Serbs defied the nature, their so-called government and their fear, to say a loud “No” in the referendum against the occupation and oppression, on the birthday of Serbia, in the best tradition of Karađorđe, while their government disowned them, not only failing to resume the state-building tradition of the Orašac meeting and the Sretenje Constitution, but reversing it. Where Karađorđe erected roadblocks before foreign warlords and where Miloš pushed them out with slick peasant diplomacy, Boris Tadić is begging them to come and take what they please. Where Miloš humiliated himself to save and free Serbia, Tadić humiliated Serbia to better himself and his sycophantic cohorts. I see, making too much noise about Karađorđe and Miloš might screw up the process of brainwashing the Serbs into believing that everything good, honorable and heroic about their past is in fact detrimental to the higher principle of obedience to foreign masters for the sake of being shown mercy and thrown crumbs from the imperial kitchen.
The nations that have no respect for their past heroes cannot hope to give birth to future heroes. What can Serbia hope for?