About ten years ago, inside the premises of the high school which bears the name of the great anti-war poet, Dušan Vasiljev, and in which there is still, by strange coincidence, my employment record book, I heard an idea which then, at the moment it was uttered, sounded completely idiotic to me. Namely: not one colleague, but a group of them (highly-educated, employed by an institution which is supposed to produce future intellectual elites) insisted on changing the school’s name. This group seemed to think that, unfortunate even after his death, Vasiljev was a poet whose poetry ignored certain Christian principles (this was probably brought about by a line from the poem “Man’s Mother’s Cry,” read with ignorant dullness), therefore his place wasn’t in schools but, I assume, among some sort of anti-Christian sects.
“Complete idiots,” I recall thinking back then, anticipating a recent brilliant remark by the current prime minister of the Serbian Government. I also recollect thinking how I could barely wait for them to propose their initiative at a teachers’ meeting, or perhaps in the media, so I could have some fun on account of other peoples’ foolishness. I was rather revolutionary-minded, determined to defend Vasiljev from semi-literate morons at the cost of a wider public debate and exposure to an unnecessary waste of time. The school was to be called as it was called, I told myself. Leave my Vasiljev alone.
But then a general of the former Yugoslav army, Vlado Trifunović, a Christian, died. The man who saved 280 families from losing their children, who had been left alone at a barracks in the Croatian town of Varaždin in 1991 with 250 half-trained recruits, with a message from Serbia that it would be best for all of them to die where they were, because dead heroes were needed as never before. Trifunović ignored the message and handed over the barracks to the Croatian forces, having previously issued an order, according to his own admission, that the majority of military resources should be put out of action. He gathered together all soldiers and non-commissioned officers and took them back home, safe and sound. While all this was happening, General Trifunović’s family was held hostage in Croatian hands, which can, in no way, weaken his rescuing gesture, but can say something about the scale of the psychological crisis in which he, almost the hero of a Greek tragedy, found himself. For, upon closing the case, the Republic of Serbia charged General Trifunović with betrayal, the Republic of Croatia with war crime, as well as the Republic of Slovenia. As I said, a Greek tragedy. Or Beckett. Or possibly Ionesco.
General Trifunović had twenty-five years of life still before him. To drag himself from court to court, to write books in his own defense, from a beautiful nine-square-meter room in the ruined Hotel Bristol in Belgrade at that, right next to the bus terminal. And to lose his family. And to lose his health. And so it was.
General Vlado Trifunović died the other day, and none of the officials of the Republic of Serbia have commented on the news. None of the military. None of the half-dead opposition parties of the liberal persuasion, and with an anti-war past. Almost no TV station reported on the general’s death. I don’t know if the soldiers, whose children are alive because General Trifunović once made such a decision, have heard that he’s left us. I don’t know how they’d feel, if they had.
It’s certain that the general won’t be buried in the Alley of Distinguished Citizens at the New Cemetery of Belgrade. The date of his birth or death will remain completely unknown to the future times. No school will bear his name, no street. No one will, with ceremonial pomp, erect a monument to the general. In no city, in no ex-Yugoslav pseudo-country. And there will be no disputes, no clashing views, no one will cover a plaque with Trifunović’s name with some other plaques carrying the names of some other generals. None of this will happen.
Some other officer, Veselin Šljivančanin, is alive and well. On the day of General Vlado Trifunović’s death, Lieutenant-Colonel Šljivančanin took part in a meeting organized by the Serbian Progressive Party, the absolutely ruling party in Serbia today. Lieutenant-Colonel Šljivančanin had previously been justifiably absent, spending about ten years in prison for war crimes. Some activists from the Youth Initiative for Human Rights appeared at the meeting, wishing to protest peacefully against the fact that such an individual as Šljivančanin should address anyone in their country. A peaceful protest ended in the beating of nine activists who the ruling party, in an utterly phantasmagoric statement, called fascists.
It’s good that no institution in Serbia today will bear the name of General Vlado Trifunović, just as I should have supported the complete idiots in their attempt to stop dragging Dušan Vasiljev’s name through the mire. Eternal peace to some, statements and Šljivančanin to others. Everybody gets what they deserve.
Where you are now, my general? You must be better off than with us here. And remember me to Vasiljev.