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October 1, 2020

Bloody arithmetic

Recent years have got us used to a new face of history’s “Evil”: militant and barbaric Islam. Wide-scale massacres, horrible atrocities, destroyed artistic vestiges, women abused and treated like war srebrenicaloot. It happens today in the Islamic State, but we forget that two decades ago it happened in the middle of Europe, in the former Yugoslav territories. The massacre in Srebrenica was only the bloodiest: eight thousand men and teenage boys, civilian refugees, shot in cold blood. But many other massacres marred those years of war, and their authors were not only Serbs but also Croatians, Bosnian Muslims, Albanians. And if we go back in time, during the Second World War, the wide-scale massacring of civilians accompanied the armed conflict per se. Of course, most wars have been anything but simple chivalrous confrontations between honourable combatants. Goya left us the plastic image of the murderous fury of Napoleonic armies in Spain. Could this be only the murderous impulse of humanity, which periodically materializes in war-time atrocities (or even peace-time atrocities like in the case of communist regimes that did not hesitate to massacre their own citizens)? Does the murderers’ motivation matter or is it only a pretext for a visceral attitude? Man is a versatile creature, so that context and inner evolution are determinant for his actions. Murderous predisposition materializes only in special conditions, and consciousness is not inactive. In general, all these massacres have political motivations. Eliminated are not just the opponents but also the “potential” opponents. Ever since the principle of democratic majority has been active, politics has often become a matter of numbers. Consequently, arithmetical operations are needed in order to change the political ratios. People become numbers, like in Auschwitz. And a simple arithmetical calculus equates to a massacre. Giorgio Agamben called the camp the privileged “juridical” solution of contemporary politics. To counteract such logic, European politics has developed a system for the protection of minorities and cultural identities, a system that has paid off but that does not lack inconveniences and vulnerabilities. The Nazis overbid the ethnic principle, developing the theory of a racial hierarchy. The “inferior” races “deserved” to be exterminated or at least crushed. Others did not concern themselves with so many “scientific” problems, and instead only vilified those of a different ethnicity in order to ease their possible contrition when massacring them.

In such a rather misanthropic outlook, it seems inefficient to talk about responsibilities. And yet, this remains the only way to avoid sinking in perverse indistinctness. In Indonesia, the ones who several decades ago massacred approximately one million “communist” subjects still live alongside the victims’ relatives, unpunished and unremorseful. They are even willing to nonchalantly recount the details of the killings. In Romania, several old men who committed atrocities during the time of the communist camps still live undisturbed. To call crime what it is, that is not a small thing even though controversies will persist. Apart from legal and political responsibilities, moral responsibilities should not be neglected. Because apart from a not-very-consistent sentimentalism, the condemnation of massacres hides extremely divergent moral judgement criteria, which in fact often render inoperative the “conclusions” of various public debates. At any rate, a heightened responsibility of politics is possible, eliminating some of the hypocrisy that is trying to hide the “dirty” implications of certain options.

“Massacres” are often predictable, so that sometimes it is better to avoid a certain path rather than to “win” at such a cost. Politics as bloodless as possible – here is a significant criterion for the age of democratic majorities. For instance, was it worth it for the Serbs to stain their hands and consciences with the Srebrenica massacre? What “historical” benefit do they have now?


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Divide et impera

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