Smoke and mirrors campaign – How to defend Kosovo by attacking a small festival?

By Vuk Jeremić 

One of the unwritten, but golden rules of political life in Serbia dictates that every situation, no matter how miniscule, must be used to raise tensions in society. As a man who made his name by adhering to the rules of a different game, Aleksandar Šapić navigates the murky waters of politics exceptionally well.

After the rerun elections in Belgrade were concluded, Aleksandar Šapić will, by all accounts, continue to serve as the mayor of a metropolis struggling with problems. However, in one of his first public addresses, Šapić did not take the opportunity to comment on the collapse of the city’s transportation system, the air quality, which is among the worst in the world, or the very questionable state of the city’s public finances. No, the issue that bothers the future mayor the most is that in a week, the “Mirdita – Dobar Dan” festival will be held in the city he helms.

In a statement, Šapić emphasized that as long as he is at the helm of the Serbian capital Belgrade he will not give any kind of consent for the “Mirdita” festival, and any spaces they might use will be exclusively private. He felt the need to stress that he is “explicitly” against the festival, which he claims directly falsifies and changes history by promoting the so-called Kosovo cultural heritage, excluding the fact that it is Serbian. In this way, Šapić asserts, the festival organizers are challenging the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia.

Artists as the greatest threat to sovereignty So, in Šapić’s interpretation, Serbia’s sovereignty is not challenged by the agreement under which Serbia committed not to block Kosovo’s membership in international organizations, or the one where Serbia dismantled its state apparatus in northern Kosovo, trading it for the nonexistent Community of Serb Municipalities. Territorial integrity was not compromised by the Serbian List, which has participated in Kosovo’s political life for years, operates under their laws, and has been part of all Kosovo governments until the current one led by Kurti. Nor by the issuing of license plates, recognition of passports, police withdrawals, and the boycott of elections that brought Kosovo Albanians to the head of predominantly Serb municipalities. According to the outgoing (and possibly future) Belgrade mayor, musicians, actors, and photographers who will showcase their works and skills for two days in Belgrade, as well as those who invited them, are the true threat to the country’s sovereignty.

Aleksandar Popov, the director of the Center for Regionalism, stated today that Serbian authorities do not allow other levels of society to work on normalization with Kosovo.

“Anyone who tries to work on normalizing relations outside of their control is a traitor or an enemy. Only they have the right to lead any dialogue, and communication between societies does not suit them because it goes beyond what they are actually doing behind the scenes. Thus, they appear as great fighters for the Serbian people,” he said at the panel discussion “Kosovo and Serbia and How to Achieve Peace in the Western Balkans.”

Political analyst Dušan Janjić stated that since 2017, Serbia’s policy has been intensely built on the position that Serbian authorities believe they are creating a new Serbian identity, and that is why “Mirdita on Vidovdan” bothers them.

Had it not been for Šapić’s statement and subsequent comments from politicians in power and some from the opposition on this topic, it is likely that few would know that the festival is even taking place. Similar cultural events are held in Belgrade throughout the year, gathering around a hundred people and passing without incident. However, the “Mirdita – Dobar Dan” festival has always been “privileged,” in the sense that since its first edition, a group of people dissatisfied that others who speak and think differently from them are meeting behind the gates have gathered in front of the Center for Cultural Decontamination.

One of the regular attendees of this “side” event was Milica Đurđević Stamenkovski, now the Minister for Family and Demography. However, this time, thanks primarily to Šapić, intolerance towards different opinions has been institutionalized.

Activist Aida Ćorović points out that organized resistance to the festival has always existed but has been elevated to a higher level these days.

“In this way, the authorities are actually defending the thesis that they are protecting Kosovo. Aleksandar Vučić’s policy has given away Kosovo, and ultimately, he came to power because of that. And now, while this process is ongoing, people in power must use such statements to unite the electorate with these absurdities,” Ćorović emphasizes.

If the person who wrote the statement on Šapić’s behalf researched the history of the festival he or she would find out that in 2020, a debate took place at the event on the topic “Kosovo – the Legacy of Memory”, at which it was said: “There is a collective consciousness that all nations in Kosovo possess on the preservation of cultural heritage and monuments. Politics has been trying to divide that heritage by nationality, into Serbian and Albanian”. Likewise, the press release points out that in 2019, an anthology of contemporary Kosovar drama, “Flight above the Kosovar Theater” was promoted too.

Surprisingly, the statement does not mention that in addition to the Belgrade edition, there is also a Pristina edition of the festival, which showcases the contemporary Serbian cultural scene. How was it overlooked that last year’s edition of the festival in Pristina began with a minute of silence for the victims of mass shootings in Serbia, and that after the programme concluded, visitors and participants lit candles for the victims in front of the National Theatre of Kosovo?

As a particular grievance against this year’s festival, it was highlighted that it is organized at the end of June, coinciding with the most Serbian of all days – Vidovdan. By that logic, on June 28, it would be necessary to suspend the constitutional right to freedom of thought and assembly for all who do not share the views of the (ruling) majority. However, why limit it only to Vidovdan when the calendar is full of symbolic dates with historical significance? Nonetheless, the organizers “accommodated” and moved the programme scheduled for June 28 to other days.

Aleksandar Šapić may personally be bothered by the festival, but the essence of his public statements lies elsewhere. Politicians have long understood that raising interethnic tensions is the cheapest and most effective method of diverting attention. During the summer, when political events lose intensity, similar “controversial” events or commemorative dates suddenly become significant topics.

As Aida Ćorović points out, all of this is done with the aim of preventing citizens from asking the crucial question – what was the money spent on? The consequence, she adds, is putting the participants and visitors of the “Mirdita” festival and similar events in danger.

“This directly paints a target on the backs of people who want dialogue and reconciliation. It’s all organized to create a smoke and mirrors situation and sow fear and hatred so that politicians can continue to plunder without hindrance. It’s a tried and tested recipe, and it would be unfair to say that this only happens here. However, in our case, it has been perfected”, concludes Ćorović.

(NIN, 24.06.2024)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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