Sunday, February 12, 2012

Heroism Reduced to "Inat" and the Lost Parts of Serbdom

Inat is a Serbian word for “defiance.” A word and a trait of national personality Serbs are very proud of, without a doubt, ask any Serb. Any Serb can name a number of historical instances in which the Serbs heroically defied a powerful enemy or two, or three. You don’t flip the bird to Adolf Hitler just because you don’t like his mustache. You don’t go dancing under NATO bombs just because the bridges were closed for traffic. However, inat is also a Turkish word for “defiance.” I’m not an etymologist and I can’t tell you which language the word originated in. What I can say is that defining inat as a Serbian national trait is misleading and traditionally costly, although very emboldening. No, I’m not diminishing heroically righteous feats – and sacrifices – some Serbs tend to ascribe to inat, but there must be a word said about the other side of the coin that is this inat thing.
Mihajlo Latas, a Serb from Janja Gora, Lika, became Omer-pasha, the most fearsome and celebrated general of the Ottoman armies of the mid-19th century and a man who almost suffocated the free Serb principality of Montenegro in 1853. No, he wasn’t a devshirme victim; he converted as a grown man. About 20 Ottoman grand viziers were of Serb descent. Numerous other Serb converts served in the Ottoman armies since the time of Ahmed Hercegović, the son of Herceg Stjepan Vukčić Kosača, conquering and pillaging the very lands they were born in. Some very bold estimates project a figure of 9 million of present-day Turks descending from the Serbian people. The accuracy of the number is not even relevant, the principle is: Serbs converted to Islam as much as they defied Islam and the Ottoman rule. For every Lazar, there was a Konstantin Dejanović and even Marko Kraljević, that fought against the Serbs, if not in Kosovo, than in other battles. Which inat are we talking about?
Thousands of the Military Frontier Serbs converted to Catholicism due to political and economic pressures as well as opportunities. The fact that there is no Catholic Serbs today tells us a little something about the ancestry of a large chunk of the Croat nation. I’m sure the Serbs that were expelled from Croatia in 1995 would claim inat as one of the determinants of their rejection of the renewed Croat hegemony. But where was inat when their relatives chose to cross over or succumbed to the pressures of the Vatican agents a century or two back? 
Where was inat in the Arnautash Serbs out of which at least one third of Kosovo Albanians descend? 
Where was inat in Sandor Petofi, born Aleksandar Petrović, the greatest Hungarian poet of the 19th century? Communist partisans were overwhelmingly Serbs that turned against Serbdom for the advancement of a hostile foreign ideology, not for the sake of inat.
Where is inat in Montenegrin Serbs that are openly betraying Serbdom for a job offer in the Djukanovic mafia state? Where is inat in Vojvodina Serbs who are way too easily allowing the ideas of separation from Serbia to take root? Where is this famous inat in Serbian leaders and their NGO accomplices who are eagerly handing Serbia over to her enemies, who are aiding and abetting foreign interests in dismembering and ravaging Serbia? Is this inat thing exclusive to Serbs who claim it or is it somehow applicable to all of Serbdom, as one would be prone to conclude from boisterous chest-bumping of some among us? Which Serbs are inatli, Tadic’s sycophants, Čeda Jovanović’s fifth column, or perhaps Nenad Čanak’s separatists? The only thing these Serbs are in defiance of is Serbdom itself.
In every generation that defied, there was a pretty large contingent that succumbed, in one way or another. Succumbing didn’t only mean openly betraying, joining the enemy and taking up arms against your own. Succumbing didn’t always mean converting to an occupier’s religion, either. Succumbing meant inflicting damage to the vitality of Serbdom by abandoning it, turning against it or failing to defend it. After each of these processes of inflicting the damage ended, Serbdom found itself poorer for the contingent that succumbed. We came out of all of these battles smaller, sometimes ostensibly victorious, but always boasting defiance, conveniently forgetting those that didn’t defy. 
As a side note, there was most often a formula to this dual response to foreign advances. The advance came in two ways, the physical assault and the soft power. The head-on attack would inflict comparatively lighter losses on Serbdom than the process of a gradual takeover. Most Serbs didn’t convert to Islam as a way to avoid that head-on assault, but during the post-conquest centuries, when they attempted to get integrated into the Ottoman society and pursue social and economic opportunities. Conversions didn’t always have as their goal the protection of estate or the continuation of privilege, but were considered a legitimate social mobility option. To avoid being frowned upon, a convert would simply have to move to less diverse Muslim areas and blend in. In the Military Frontier, most Serbs who converted to Catholicism were offered “a middle ground” option of the Church Union, which only served to eventually catholicize the Serbs completely. Cajoling and conning historically worked much better against the Serbs than aggressive physical power. And it had nothing to do with inat.
Again, I’m not here to downplay the heroism of those generations of Serbs who, wisely or unwisely, stood up and defied oncoming assaults, but I am trying to put inat, an attribute that caused a lot of false perceptions about Serbian reactions to hostile advances, into a perspective that shows the banality of ascribing this trait to all of Serbdom. I will even question its application to Serbdom as an identifying trait at all. The feats of heroic generations should be seen for what they were, isolated from any kind of superficial inscriptions on our collective Zodiac card. These feats were not caused by inat, but by the natural need of our people to defend itself, to correctly respond to assaults on its freedom and dignity…      
Kingdom of Serbia did not reject the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum in 1914 for the sake of defiance – let’s not diminish the act. Serbia was a free country whose independence would have been seriously undermined if she succumbed to the pressure from Vienna. It was not an irrational response; it was a conscious, deliberate, political decision, albeit an extremely brave one. If we would write it off to inat, we would seriously devalue it. The defiance of Hitler in 1941 was expressed with the purported egging on from the intelligence agents of the British Empire, but it was still completely within the Serbian ever-present desire to reject foreign rule, again, not for the sake of defiance, but for the sake of freedom. General Draža Mihailović wasn’t the only anti-fascist resistance fighter in the entire Nazi-occupied Europe in 1941 because he wanted to defy and stop Germans and Croats, but because he wanted freedom for his people. It would be unjust to ascribe his heroic struggle to such an irrational reaction as inat. Even in 1999, Slobodan Milošević, for all of his ill-advised decisions, did not reject the first Rambouillet “agreement” because he was playing a defiant warlord, but because it imposed such unjust terms which no self-respecting independent state could afford to succumb to. (In a more current example that Serbs like to cite, Novak Djokovic is not wreaking havoc atop the men's tennis world out of Serbian inat, but after years of hard work and tightening his skills, he reached the mental and physical heights that allow him to be one of the most dominant players ever.)
Defiance for its own sake is an irrational reaction and while Serb leaders committed many a nonsensical, irrational decision in their history, most of them were not due to a defiant nature of their character, but due to a plain amateurism and an inability to lead. As I said, our history is replete with examples of ambiguous responses to foreign advances. In every case, only one part of the Serbian nation could claim inat as its trait, and even that would not be warranted. We, as a people, should begin looking at our history in less of a romanticized and superficial way to recognize its real values and to judge it more honestly.


Meezer said...

Our history clearly shows that there always was (and continues to be) a fifth column working against us. Outside forces continue to bribe Serbs to turn on Serbs. Despite all that, we will survive & eventually prevail against all odds.

Anonymous said...

Nije mi jasno zasto je ovo napisano na Engleskom, mozda da bi nasim krvnim neprijateljima stavili do znanja na njima razumljivom jeziku, da smo pic.e

Gray Falcon said...

I now wonder whether on many occasions, the leaders now remembered (and deservedly so) as heroic chose to fight against overwhelming odds precisely because they know the "soft power" was far worse than a danger met heads-on.

Srbo said...

Они знају шта смо ми, али ми не знамо ни шта су они, ни шта смо ми.

Srbo said...

It'd be interesting to dissect the reasons behind each major occurrence and the consequences of one response versus the other.
Was the Annexation Crisis of 1908 a clear sign that the hard response was the only adequate one against the soft power of Austria?
The Kosovo battle was definitely an indicator of the consequences of a hard response v. a soft response. The greatest loss the Serbs suffered under the Ottomans was the human loss in the form of converts. The submission to the soft-er power of Mehmed the Conqueror resulted in the Bosnian Begovat, i.e. the nobility of the province converted almost as an institution, while the memorable physical conflict left the urge to resist such conversions in the Moravian Serbia and Zeta. The Kosovo narrative, based in its barest form on the motive of bloody resistance at the price of horrific sacrifice, planted the reflex of the right and the wrong for future generations to model their behavior after. In the sense of that analogy, yes, the soft power proved to be way more dangerous. Whether Lazar knew it, it's anybody's guess.

Srbo said...

@Meezer: So many peoples that didn't take care of themselves do not exist anymore. History is the proof that there is no inevitable survival, only an inevitable struggle.
Look at what's been chipped away from Serbdom in the last 100 years. The trend is still downward, all the indicators are there to show it will continue. It's up to no one but us to stop it and hopefully reverse it. Čeda Jovanović is today's Sulejman-pasha Skopljak.

Meezer said...

When one hits rock bottom, the only way to go is up :)

As far as trends go:

The empire is crumbling & will implode. Eventually there will be a reset. Traitors like Ceda will flee before they become "collaterial damage"

Ivan said...

thank you for putting inat where it belong... and thank you for in short explanation of Serbia lost of population due coverings to Islam and Catholicism.