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WRITERS VS. BARBARIANS - 90 years of Serbian PEN center and (self)censorship

Back in 1985, at the international conference in Budapest organised by the Federation for Human Rights, Danilo Kiš read his short, memorable essay on censorship. The author described it as a phenomenon which “does not aknowledge its...

WRITERS VS. BARBARIANS
90 years of Serbian PEN center and (self)censorship
by Saša Ilić

Back in 1985, at the international conference in Budapest organised by the Federation for Human Rights, Danilo Kiš read his short, memorable essay on censorship. The author described it as a phenomenon which “does not aknowledge its own existence and attempts to hide behind the mantle of democratic institutions with completely different functions, such as publishing houses and committees or masquerades itself in the person of an editor, a reviewer, a proofreader, etc.”. Its existence Kiš perceived as “the symptom of a chronic illness which develops self-censorship alongside with it.”
In the last four years in Serbia a series of “invisible” government interventions took place concerning freedom of speech and media freedoms in general. Some very important political television shows were taken off the channels with national frequencies, some editorial teams were replaced – as in the case of Radio Television of Vojvodina - and similar things have happened to cartoonists too. Namely, to Dušan Petričić, who used to comment on current affairs in Serbia with his signature visual commentaries on the front page of the daily Politika. This year he was sacked and he had to leave. This kind of repression was felt in all media outlets and its editorial boards, where consequently ever growing fear triggered self-censorship.
Recently, the National Library of Serbia organised a celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Serbian PEN Centre. The poet Ljubomir Simović spoke at the event and his scathing critical speech provoked an unexpected response from the media, which made us realise that the process of self-censorship took stronger hold than one could have imagined. Everything was planned to run smoothly, though, including the suitable speeches by Vladan Vukosavljević, the Minister of Culture and Vida Ognjenović, the president of the Serbian PEN. However, the speech by Simović, the poet, titled “The Return to Barbarism” (the phrase taken from T.S. Eliot), listed all the misdeeds and impropriety of Aleksandar Vučić’s government, starting from the controversial urban development “Belgrade Waterfront”, followed by their media, language, cultural, educational and economic policies, all the way to the illegal night demolition of housing in Belgrade’s Savamala district. That night Simović warned that the authors who would dare to write about all these misconducts would have been censored. Indeed, Simović’s speech activated the self-censorship button of the majority of the Serbian media who were reporting from this event.
The first news published after the PEN event was from the state agency Tanjug. The news heading was “The Nine Decades of the Serbian PEN”. It was comprised of three parts, the first and most important of which was based on Minister Vukosavljević’s speech. His overview of the history of the Serbian PEN was made of half-truths, delivered in a joyous manner, full of well-wishing for the years ahead. The second part referred to the summary of Vida Ognjenović’s speech, from which a single memorable sentence was taken out: “PEN is indispensable as our fellow fighter in the struggle for freedom of speech, freedom of the written word and freedom of thought, and against war, censorship, violence and inhumane actions.” The Minister finished his speech by reminding us of the year when the Serbian PEN was founded (1926), and of all the authors who participated in its creation. This was, in fact, the (self)censored version of the event. The “agency news” served as an alibi for the (self)censorship that the other media performed, as they uncritically broadcasted the Tanjug version of the event (TV B92, for example, being one of them).

Luckily, on that same evening, TV N1 reported about the same event. Given that Television N1 can be watched only in Belgrade, via a cable tv, just a small fraction of the public was informed about what actually happened. Politika, the main daily newspaper, published the “agency news” about this event only on Saturday 26th November, in its regular cultural section under the heading “The Serbian PEN – Fellow Fighter for Freedom of Speech”. It was telling that no one authored the article, as it was a hybrid of Tanjug’s and Seecult portal news. Only the independent daily Danas, with its very limited circulation, published the integral version of the poet Ljubomir Simović’s speech.

On the same day, the daily newspaper Blic published a short news piece about the PEN’s 90th anniversary celebration. It took the heading from Simović’s talk, but represented his ideas in such a way that readership could gather that the poet was talking about the universal problems of marginalisation of literature, by quoting the T.S.Eliot stance that “the people which ceases to care for its literary inheritance becomes barbaric”. The Blic journalist’s punch-line was that “the people in power have realised that the power of books could be thwarted.” This means absolutely nothing, in the same way in which the whole article distorts its own capacity for criticism. It turns out that Simović’s barbarians are the same as Eliot’s barbarians, who trouble the world in the same way and measure - which is simply not true.
For completing the jigsaw puzzle about the 90th anniversary celebration of the Serbian PEN one needs to put in much more effort than in the previous years. A reader needs to have an advanced level of media literacy and the perseverance of a researcher, providing that he initially had his doubts regarding the Tanjug agency news and the Minister of Culture’s utterances. The number of such readers, however, is insignificant. The vast majority are left to a dangerous “mental manipulation with profound consequences for literature and the human spirit”, as Danilo Kiš once said.
Translated by Svetlana Rakocevic

***

PISCI VS. VARVARI
90 godina Srpskog PEN centra i (auto)cenzura



Danilo Kiš je u  Budimpešti davne 1985,  na međunarodnom skupu u organizaciji Federation for Human Right, pročitao svoj kratki, nezaboravni esej o cenzuri. Opisao ju je kao pojavu “koja svoje postojanje ne priznaje i želji da se prikrije u okrilju demokratskih institucija koje vrše i druge funkcije (izdavačke i novinske redakcije i saveti) ili da se supstituiše u ličnosti direktorâ izdavačkih kuća i novina, urednikâ kolekcija, recenzenta, lektora”. Njeno postojanje, Kiš je video kao “simptom jedne hronične bolesti koja se razvija uporedo sa njom – autocenzure”.
U Srbiji je za poslednje četiri godine zabeležen čitav niz „nevidljivih“ intervencija vlasti u polje slobode govora i medijskih sloboda uopšte. Skinute su neke važne političke emisije sa kanala koji imaju nacionalnu frekvenciju, promenjene su redakcije poput slučaja smene uredničkog borda na Radio televiziji Vojvodine, a na udaru su se našli i karikaturisti kao što se to dogodilo Dušanu Petričiću, koji je jedanput nedeljno na naslovnoj strani centralnog lista Politika objavljivao svoj vizuelni komentar aktuelnih političkih prilika u zemlji. Ove godine mu je uručen otkaz i on je morao da ode. Ovakva represija se prenela na gotovo sve redakcije, gde je zavlado strah kao glavni okidač za autocenzuru.
Nedavna proslava 90 godina Srpskog PEN centra u prostorijama Narodne biblioteke Srbije, kao i žestok kritički govor pesnika Ljubomira Simovića na toj proslavi, uslovio je neobičnu reakciju medija što nas navodi na pomisao da je proces autocenzure uzeo više maha nego što se to moglo pretpostaviti. Sve je bilo zamišljeno da prođe u najboljem redu, uz prigodne govore ministra kulture  Vladana Vukosavljevića i predsednice domaćeg PEN-a Vide Ognjenović. Međutim, govor pesnika Simovića, naslovljen kao „Povratak u varvarstvo“ (sintagma je preuzeta od T.S. Eliota), pobrojao je sva nepočinstva vlasti Aleksandra Vučića, od problematičnog urbanog projekta “Beograd na vodi”, preko medijske, jezičke, kulturne, obrazovne i privredne politike, sve do nelegalnog noćnog rušenja objekata u delu Beograda poznatom kao Savamala. Pisci koji bi pisali o tome, mogli bi doći na udar cenzure, upozoravao je Simović. Zaista, ovaj govor aktivirao je alarm za autocenzuru kod većine medija koji su preneli vest sa ovog skupa.
Prvu vest sa proslave PEN-a objavila je državna agencija Tanjug. Naslov njihove vesti glasio je “Devet decenija postojanja Srpskog PEN centra”. Struktura ove vesti imala je tri segmenta od kojih je prvi i najvažniji bio zasnovan na govoru ministra Vukosavljevića, koji je izneo uglavnom poluistine o istoriji PEN-a, a sve u znaku dobrog raspoloženja i lepih želja za budućnost ove organizacije. Drugi segment odnosio se na skraćenu verziju govora Vide Ognjenović, iz kog je izdvojena samo jedna udžbenička rečenica koja glasi: “PEN je neophodan kao saborac u borbi za slobodu govora, pisane reči i mišljenja, a protiv rata, cenzure, nasilja i nehumanih postupaka”. Tekst se završava podsećanjem na godinu osnivanja PEN-a 1926, kao i na pisce koji su učestvovali u njegovom osnivanju. Bila je ovo zapravo (auto)cenzurisana verzija događaja. Ova “agencijska vest” poslužila je kao alibi za autocenzuru ostalih medija koji su oberučke preuzimali Tanjugovo viđenje događaja, kao što je to učinila televizija B92.

Na sreću, iste večeri je vest o ovom događaju objavila i televizija N1, koja se može gledati samo preko jedne kablovske televizije u Beogradu, tako da je deo javnosti ipak bio upoznat sa realnim činjenicama. List Politika je tek u subotu 26. novembra na redovnoj stranici kulture prenela “agencijsku vest” o ovom događaju i to pod naslovom “Srpski Pen – saborac u slobodi govora”. Zanimljivo je da ovu vest niko nije potpisao, već se radilo o hibridu izveštaja Tanjuga i portala Seecult. Samo je nezavisni dnevnik Danas, sa veoma ograničenim tiražom, preneo integralnu verziju izlaganja Ljubomira Simovića.

Istog dana je i dnevni list Blic objavio kratku vest o skupu povodom devedeset godina PEN-a. Naslov je preuzet od Simovića, ali je zato reprezentacija njegovih ideja takva da se stiče utisak kako je pesnik govorio o opštim problemima marginalizacije književnosti, pozivajući se na Eliotov stav “da narod kome više nije stalo do literarnog nasleđa postaje varvarski”. Udarna glosa u tekstu novinarke Blica glasila je: “Vlast je shvatila da se uticaj knjige može osujetiti”. Ovo zapravo ne znači ništa, kao što i ceo tekst deformiše realni kritički kapacitet izgovorenih reči. Ispada da su Simovićevi varvari zapravo Eliotovi varvari, koji u istoj meri more čitav svet, što u stvari nije tačno.

Za sklapanje integralne slike o proslavi devedesete godišnjice Srpskog PEN centra potrebno je mnogo više napora nego što je to bilo proteklih godina. Čitaocu je neophodna visoka medijska pismenost i upornost istraživača, naravno pod uslovom da je već na početku posumnjao u ono što mu servira novinska agencija Tanjug i ono što recimo govori ministar kulture. Takvih je, međutim, malo. Ogromna većina je prepuštena pogubnoj “mentalnoj manipulaciji sa dalekosežnim posledicama po literaturu i po ljudski duh”, kako bi to rekao Danilo Kiš.

Saša Ilić

Saša Ilić, 1972 geboren, ist ein serbischer Schriftsteller. Er lebt in Belgrad und ist Chefredaktionsmitglied von BETON (Beilage der Tageszeitung Danas).

Saša Ilić, born 1972, is a Serbian writer. He lives in Beograd and is member of the editorial board of BETON (literary supplement of the daily newspaper Danas).

Saša Ilić, 1972 geboren, ist ein serbischer Schriftsteller. Er lebt in Belgrad und ist Chefredaktionsmitglied von BETON (Beilage der Tageszeitung Danas).

Saša Ilić, born 1972, is a Serbian writer. He lives in Beograd and is member of the editorial board of BETON (literary supplement of the daily newspaper Danas).

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