July 18, 1994 Vreme News Digest Agency No 147


The Top 100 Serbs

by Gojko Nikolis (The author is an academician from Belgrade, temporarily living in France)

For the Serbian people the appearance of the book ``The 100 Greatest Serbs'' has a deep moral and spiritual justification.

The book contains proof of the intellectual, moral, cultural and scientific values of some Serb figures. Doubtless, the members of the editorial board had difficulties in choosing ``the greatest'' Serbs. What are the criteria in determining greatness? It was difficult for the authors of some biographies to find the right style and tone when describing the life and work of some prominent figures. They found themselves facing the dilemma: first, should historically determined facts be used to illustrate real values of a certain epoch and its creators, and secondly, should the same facts be (mis)used as arguments in favor of a present, ideological and political concept a priori, e.g., in proving some exceptional Serbian ``spirituality'' as the formula of patriotism and of ``national interest''?

A careful reader of the book will notice that the editorial board and the authors of the biographies did not always manage to avoid traps. For example, important figures who are not Serbs have been included in the book (Rudjer Boskovic and Ivan Dzivo Gundulic). There are many entries which reach scientific and literary heights worthy of those described, but there are some who qualify only at the level of hollow glorification.

Let us take a closer look at the case of Rudjer Boskovic and Ivan Gundulic. R. Boskovic: mathematician, astronomer and philosopher, born in Dubrovnik 1711. Educated and trained in the Jesuit Collegium Ragusinum, Boskovic became a member of the Jesuit Order and graduated from the famous Jesuit Collegium Romanum in Rome. After completing his theological studies he became a priest. Boskovic visited all important European countries and became a French citizen. He wrote and published scientific and philosophical works in Latin, Italian and French. Boskovic died in 1787 and was buried in Milan. On the basis on these facts, one must ask oneself: wherein lie R. Boskovic's Serbian roots? The times he lived and worked in (the time of the Turkish rule, when Boskovic had no interest in or opportunities to establish links with his Serbian heritage represented by a backward Serbia and Montenegro) do not speak in favor of the Serbian element. The environment and culture in which he grew up and acquired his education and to which he belonged (the Jesuit Order, affiliation to the Western world's science and civilization) do not speak in favor of his Serbian feelings. It must be admitted however, that there is one factor which proves Boskovic's Serbian roots, it is the only one, and as such it is not very convincing. Boskovic's father Nikola Boskovic was a Serb from Herzegovina. He lived in Dubrovnik. He was a rich merchant who converted to Catholicism when he married an Italian. It turns out that Boskovic is a Serb only genetically. Can genetic roots be considered a decisive factor in determining the national orientation and essence of a man, while at the same time disregarding the much stronger sociological, cultural and other nongenetic aspects?

It is even less clear why Ivan Dzivo Gundulic has been included in the book. It is true that he was a poet with very deep feelings for the Slav and Yugoslav idea, but this is not enough to consider him a Serb.

The motives for the publishing of the book lie in the need to counter primitive behavior, and the current tendency of ``defending Serbian national interests,'' i.e. nationalist ambitions. The book also includes General Milan Nedic (selfproclaimed representative of the King and Commander of the collaborationist army in Nazioccupied Serbia)

and hints at Draza Mihajlovic (Commander of the Royal Yugoslav Army during the Nazi occupation). Once we have allowed ourselves to be led by such reasons, there are no limits to the greedy appropriation of a cultural heritage which does not belong to the Serbs and Serbia, and never did. An ideological analogy with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic's ``liberating'' strategy in BosniaHerzegovina comes to mind.