An Introduction to the Topic at Hand

The title of this article, which I borrowed and changed from a man long ago passed, is meant to explain, in a series of topics, one thesis of mine, profound as it is dull, which everyone has already grasped is occurring which is that in many states, not just these rotten semi-feudal lands but elsewhere—perhaps, everywhere—the institutions which kept at bay barbarism, cunning, and cutthroat competition are now the bastions of them. Which has led to a peculiar outcome, at least here in the Balkans, even more in Serbia, that most of the “greats”—philosophers, poets, playwrights, writers of prose and short stories—no longer have any degree and in fact, the degree which they sought to get corrupted their art through an extreme development of political sensibilities which undermines all of their flawed, human qualities. Even if I desire to explain the strange circumstances of intellectual life occurring in this region, I have no hope for some kind of revitalizing that these articles will produce. In fact, quite the opposite; it is my desire to show intellectual education as is now, here, in this country, comparing it is as it is talked about and extrapolated in the world, in order to better assess the state of an individual who wishes to educate himself thoroughly. My thesis is, if nothing else, disturbing and conspiratorial, dour and alienating as is the modern experience of education: excessively political, needlessly engaged in squabbles and witch-hunts producing a different kind of man entirely: a political fighter in case of an intellectual.

Which is why, those of us who studied often encountered in our courses thoughts and opinions which could only be described as ridiculous yet fully justified with the entire armature of scientific methodology and intellectual fashions coming and going, leaving nothing worth studying. And this is also why, many of us, no longer accessing the higher institutions of learning, become not only isolated thinkers, but anti-thinkers—thinkers against the tinkering of credentialed plots meant to produce good political outcomes—the institutions are now meant to educate a man in instrumentalizing his education to produce “motherly gestures”: love, affection, and, of course, living standards. Gone are the days of writing in solitude! That is, in solitude one chose. Your average student knows nothing of the things he studies but everything about the history of them and the more political background as well. Which is why, this article arose out of my discussions with intellectuals outside of their positions: in pubs, correspondences, and on the streets. And through this the institutions were, without them even knowing, thoroughly defeated.

First Topic: University of Novi Sad, 2014

My first meeting with the university was when I was told I was a fascist because of my last name. Not because of who I was, or what I believed, how I looked and what I claimed, none of it. My last name, which I will keep hidden, was the same last name as some WW2 collaborationist, or monarchist, or anti-communist. So, I was asked, on my very first class: “X? Like that war criminal?” And I responded: “Like a hero.”

But who was the hero? My last name is a common-sounding peasant name found all around my country. Not only did I not get what was implied, I didn’t even know about which person he was talking about. I talked about myself, that my last name, which smelled of open fields and spring, to me, simply felt heroic. But this single exchange has marked all of my intellectual, half-baked, mad, wandering development. Because, I had the last name of a war criminal. Not my last name: his last name. It became a tool of enslavement. Instrumentalized in order to—what else—separate the wheat from the chaff. Perhaps that was how every man called Joseph felt in Georgia, or every descendant of some Confederate soldier or even further, how he must be felt. Suddenly, my very existence became a measure of good or evil. Fascism, or some kind of despotism, dark, brutal Balkan tyranny and who knows what else. I came from a small village right next on the borders, through which army caravans traveled in the Yugoslav wars. My uncle and a whole bunch of family died in the wars while I was a child. And all of them, also, had the last name which was not ours, but of the strange man who lived some 70 years ago whose battles against communists still echoed in us, the living.

To others, however, my last name was precisely of a hero—and precisely that same war criminal, which meant I should take pride in it. Not once have I understood what the topic is actually about because, by that time, the university, and all the faculties, became places of naked intellectual struggle. The man who asked me if I am a fascist never liked me, and being a young man, idealizing intellectuals, feeling devastated, I sought to overcome the accusation by becoming what was sought of me: an anti-fascist. But there was also no sense in this as well. Because becoming anti-fascist meant you are in fact a communist, and therefore—a traitor of my last name. His last name! All of this I speak of happened in the span of few months where I suddenly discovered the very historicity of my entire being. I was no longer Moorcraft—I was everything either wrong or right with the world and represented a kind of a battlefield over which intellectual feuds were fought.

But—and this is painful to acknowledge—I came there in order to prove myself. Imagine my surprise whence I discovered what that place is like. It reminded me of one student from Ukraine who went to America as an exchange student and his story of how it is out there. He was blond as blond gets, and one time, a black professor was talking about slave-owners and pointed to my friend. My friend, completely puzzled, told him the world “slave” most likely originated from the word “Slav,” and told him the history of Varangians sailing down the Volga selling Slavs as slaves, of Arabs and Turks enslaving us and selling us on bazaars, completely unconscious of the political effect that professor wanted to produce in my colleague. He was then ejected out of the place as a racist because the history he merely explained was against the political effect that professor sought to awaken in his students. After returning here, he spent another few months in Serbia only to evaporate somewhere in the Ukrainian steppes. Studying became pointless; he was, as he was, someone’s enemy. And most students in this region can tell you tales like this.

That, perhaps, represents most thoroughly the collapse of our institutions of higher learning. I must now explain—to this silent audience—what effects and outcomes it produced in me, and the effects on others and how, over time, it came to mark us and alienate us, from the curriculum we studied, down to the thoughts we believed others had of us, down to, of course, our spiritual development.

So, my silent audience, few and far, let’s start with mentioning a few of the local places of interest after which, we will proceed with the discussion of this collapse.

Imagine a young student, from this region—young and fresh, naïve and not particularly bright but eager to succeed. The degree which he seeks is most likely the only way of getting not just any employment higher than hard labor, but the only way to get the smallest amount of respect. The older generation—his parents and teachers, older family members and elderly—all put a high level of prestige on any degree considering it a necessity of life. In fact, because the world was becoming credentialed everything, even becoming a welder, necessitated some paper, some certificate from some institution. So, when I too went to study, I had no idea what was expected of me or what to expect, what being an intellectual even means or how to even become one. I never believed for a second that these were, in fact, ordinary people who just happen to develop an interest or explore some natural talent. No—to me an intellectual was due to my excessive reading, something of a mythical creature. And, knowing my last name was not an intellectual’s last name, but a criminals’ name, meant I was never meant to become one. It didn’t help that even as I was going around the faculty, my actual father was rotting in jail for forgery. The world was too ironic, it seemed—over here, where I expected cold, hard neutrality I discovered not only am I a criminal but most people were similar to my father. And the act of “overcoming” even oneself was impossible: it was strange to know, that my father is a criminal because of his actions, while I too am a criminal because I am. Being compared to a criminal always irked me—I spent most of my early youth fighting; a criminal’s son in a small village never has a good life. You either learn to fight or get crushed. I still remember the day when my friend brought the local paper and found my fathers name, reading aloud how “N.N.” or whatever was arrested and will serve his time, sensing all the stares on me. After that, I fought and was bloodied. I didn’t expect, as I matured, that this in fact, is how everything in the world operates. I was operating under a false assumption that the world has in fact, moved on from personal history, when it still revolved around personal failures and successes of criminals or heroes. What I had, in fact, was a false image developed over time, which came from Europe, from the academics themselves, in order to justify their many mistakes and frequent nonsense.

But, I wasn’t the only one; in fact, most of us were there, where we weren’t supposed to. And what does this, “weren’t supposed to” mean? What does it imply?

I studied in Novi Sad, the autonomous region of Serbia called Vojvodina, joined to the Serbian state in 1918. The University was the pride of the capital which—of course—prided itself on its openness and diversity. Forty years ago it prided itself on being a stronghold of Marxist-Leninist, or Titoistic thought, and before that, it prided itself on being “civilized”, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as opposed to the Ottoman Empire down below. This mix of emotions, of sentiments, expressed itself in the strangest of manners. For the academics, my last name was a problem or a thing to celebrate—which meant justification, political revisionism of that man before me or erasure. But to the people of Novi Sad? With their openness, their “European values”, as opposed to “down there”?

I still recall the day when I was chatting with my landlords’ friend, an elderly woman of 70 or so, and she asked, dead serious: “Do you have toilets down there? You know, we were under Austrians, we are much more civilized up here…” It was my country but once more, I was asked the same, but different question: Are you a Turk?

And this idea came from the very institutions which declared uplifting my education… Of course, to educate me, yes—but also to use me for a great dagger. Vojvodina had a lot more minorities—Hungarians, Rusins, Vlachs—but these could barely be called minorities. These were simply—natives. But, what became fashionable? It was to be a minority so, of course, this time as a member of the majority I was, also, a kind of a criminal. Novi Sad, situated on the Danube sought to fashion itself as a bastion of modernity and needed people similar to my kind, in fact, a kind of literary forgeries who would—calling pebbles jewels—prove to the world and themselves they were a proper European capital. It would be poetry, art, culture—culture of voting, citizenry and democracy as opposed to the darkness down below of despotism, political schemes and peasantry. It was a wonderful and haunting experience to know what the word “peasant” implies—this time, I was a peasant! And peasants simply can’t be made into citizenry, not European citizenry at least. This disease came out not of the people, but of our institutions which always insinuated or openly spoke about the need to “modernize”—which meant raw and applicable power. And who sought this power? Intellectuals. So, in order to become an intellectual one has or needs, power. This is the natural assumption of all students who spend a few years studying in many faculties of Novi Sad, Zagreb, Belgrade, Nish, Sarajevo. Knowledge is a tool for molding and fashioning reality itself—all of us became politically awakened to the fact we were meant to be reformed or crushed. Which meant that the institutions were no longer for men. They were for two groups—women, and minorities. And these two groups, likewise, couldn’t be anything but the European, educational fantasy of what they are.

Young men in Novi Sad were always the first to give up. There arose a new kind of student—politically awake but spiritually dead, or even further, of weak philosophical qualities and excessive political aspirations. The man who called me a fascist on my very first class was like that: an assistant professor whose talent for science and philosophy was nil as an intellectual, but whose polemical talent was exceptionally developed. He devoted more time to writing columns—he had a column in one of the largest, pro-European papers in Vojvodina—than to actual science. In fact, most of those preparing the next generation sifted through us as followers, not independent men. There, a young girl would meet for the first time with some feminist theories that would explain everything in the world, and would simply have to pick a side. A man who never even knew he was oppressed discovered he was, in fact, viciously oppressed and would developed an insane political fear of the majority who a year before were his villagers and friends, even cousins. So as a man whose last name reeked of despotism, it became natural that I would follow the other side… if not, there is always the next generation of intellectual cattle.

So, I must ask you, strangers—what was asked of us? Even today, I don’t know. It was not to write research papers: most of the papers written in the University of Novi Sad are worthless, mere methodology. It was also not to be thinkers—they, who failed in becoming philosophers, declared all tinkering obsolete, and why? Because Europeans, who achieved much more, declared it through their own philosophers. We were told not to think before we grasp the fundamentals. And the fundamentals which were thought  neutral were also written in order to awaken us as combatants.

I first read, in university, that Aristotle was a proto-fascist. That Plato, or was it Empedocles, was a misogynist. I studied sociology for some reason; I was seduced by the mirage of scientifically explaining society, instead of philosophy… But, we also had plenty of philosophy yet in the very University—most students never read a single book written about. I read both Aristotle and Plato, Empedocles fragments and other literature which was spoken about, and I didn’t know where such ideas came from. I couldn’t find them in the text—I couldn’t assume that the same applied morality could go backward in historical time in order to prove moral wrongs of philosophers. However, the amount of people that read and not crammed could be counted on fingers…

What is a Serbian intellectual? A man who crams. What does he cram? History of ideas. Does he actually know where those ideas come from? No. Can he have an original thought? No, because these matters imply character, personal development, high and low, even character flaws—precisely the fact some authors were in their time what the institutions accused them of. Would the institutions purge them then? No, they couldn’t—because they would be left with the faculty which was idiotic.

And what greater intellectual humiliation could there be to read blatant nonsense and then like a sparrow repeat it? But that is what it meant and still means, to be an intellectual in this region. The very text, of some script, or some book—we were forced to buy books of our professors to learn from them—battled a political battle offering not five good sentences. Greatly written, logically consistent, or at least mad but creative… How can one go down, from reading David Hume to what third-rate professors of a third-rate University spoke about him? If you already read him, knowing the sentences and arguments, cramming it down in a few passages of historical context, that “David Hume is a British philosopher of X century. His main ideas were A, B, C, and he proposed so and so…” even if you knew for a fact, his ideas were not A, B, C, but something else entirely. Then you were sick—you thought on your own. Of course you should think, but think after you passed the exam. This is proof you can learn even the opposites of truth, as a kind of an applied historian of false thought…

As I said, in this surrounding, men failed the most. For most girls it didn’t matter—they came there to learn everything by memorization anyway. Every year a problem emerged that, come next year, half the men would be gone; a quarter of the students would have gone mad with a political disease. One thing became apparent—the ones failing the most were the worst and  the best… there were no artistic diseases and the highest skill was rote memorization of nonsense—there was no critical approach to the text. The University of Novi Sad produced intellectual slaves.

Who of course, are so unknown in the wider world they don’t even deserve to be thought about. And yet, was I not meant to be one of these slaves? Once any course became abandoned by young men there was simply no point—the girls wouldn’t ask any questions, you could tell them to cram anything and they would. The Universities are now a place for middle-class girls…they have their little theories, their fancy philosophical fashions—women, no matter where, turn everything into a kind of fashion, a kind of proving one is more elegant and cosmopolitan than another…but where did we go then? Where did all the students go? Ah, we, the fools—thought!


For all installments of “On the Collapse of Our Institutions of Higher Learning,” click here.