November 4, 1991 Vreme News Digest Agency No 6

Interview: Taras Kermauner

by Svetlana Vasovic

Mr. Taras Kermauner, the Slovene intellectual, initiated a public correspondence between Slovenia and Serbia five years ago. It was a series of political essays titled "Letters to my Serbian friend". After years of silence, disappointed by political developments both in Serbia and Slovenia, Mr.Kermauner decided to make his views known

When exactly did the split between you and your Serbian friends occur?

The first signs of disagreement could be traced back to 1984/1985. If only a few years ago the Serbian intellectuals were less enamoured with their national achievements and had agreed to give the Slovenes the equal status (and to other nations as well), if they could only had let the Slovenes behave in the way they themselves did, our friendship could have continued uninterrupted. It is a great misfortune that even the prominent Serbian intellectuals did not understand the aspirations of other nations. They buried their heads in the sand like ostriches. Thus the relations have for years been suspended. However, I still believe that the sobering up period is before us, the time when our relations will be renewed; I would very much like to see it happen.

You did not wish to mention any names. Still, you were close friends with Dobrica Cosic, Nebojsa Popov, Ljuba Tadic (one of the most prominent Serbian intellectuals)... Are you still in contact with these people?

Unfortunately not. We were great friends. I was persecuted in Slovenia, but I was always a welcome guest in Serbia. Now I think that the problem lies in the fact that they accepted me only as an individual, as a Slovene who showed great concern for Serbian problems. I think that such a radical split occurred because, in our discussions, we were primarily dealing with the ways to fight the communist regime, not concerning ourselves with what will happen afterwards... I noticed the first signs of discontent as early as 1981. None of them, apart from Dobrica Cosic, were ever preoccupied with the Serbian national feeling. It later became an epidemic. I watched how in the space of four years many of my seemingly cosmopolitan friends experienced a total change of heart.

As in Cosic's trilogy, most of your Serbian and even Slovenian friends had undergone a metamorphosis from being believers, sinners, to finally become repentants ("Believer", "Sinner" and "Repentant" are titles of three Cosic's novels which aroused severe polemics in intellectual circles in Yugoslavia a few years ago)...

I have for a long time dwelled on how this came about. I think the crux of the matter lies in the different status of the Slovene and the Serbian peoples. In 1941-45 period the Slovenes have not only had the communist revolution, but also a national one. It was different in Serbia. The national revolution was eliminated and along with chetnics pushed back deep into the subconscious. Small wonder then that the intellectuals whom I befriended in Serbia should have so indignantly rejected the nationalist ideas. The nationalist feelings in Serbia were being submerged for years, so it did not even occur to my friends to address the issue of national heresy, whereas we in Slovenia thought it normal to grapple with the issues of national allegiance.

It is true that there was nationalism in Slovenia during the fifties and the sixties, but it was not worrying. A group of intellectuals, me included, was stigmatizing the incidents of extreme nationalist behaviour. The nationalist revival in Slovenia was articulated.

On the other hand, Serbia was suddenly struck by an outburst of nationalism after 1981. Since there was no "antidote", nationalism prevailed. The Serbian intellectuals took the wrong route. Instead of denouncing this trend (with a claim that "it is necessary for Serbia to constitute itself as a national state"), they were, on the contrary, staunchly supporting the pathetic mythical ideology. At that time I published an article in the "Literature Gazette", where I criticized, among other people, some close friends for taking part in the revival of the Kosovo myth. I have never understood how the Serbian intellectuals could identify themselves with such a nationalist, pathetic, mythical stand, which flourished in Belgrade and Serbia.