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THE NEWLY DISCOVERED MASS GRAVE NEAR RAŠKA MUST BE MADE THE THEME OF A PUBLIC DEBATE

20 May 2010

The discovery of a mass grave, containing the remains of 250 Kosovo Albanians killed during the Kosovo conflict, including the fact that a part of the grave lies under a newly built building, is a serious challenge to the moral integrity of every civilised man and woman in the Serbian society. The 10 May 2010 Statement by the Prosecutorial Office for War Crimes, which cites the facts of the discovery, made jointly with Eulex, followed by its 18 May 2010 statement that it had initiated a judicial investigation of the crime, shows decision on the part of the criminal justice system to face up to the dark part of recent Serbian history.

However, the silence of the cultural and intellectual elite that has met these statements by the prosecutorial office is deafening. One would expect that writers, actors, and public personalities would reacto to the terrible news, the discovery of a secret mass grave, upon which somebody has, apparently, even built a building, is treated as a most ordinary news, almost as though it was a weather report. This is an incredible lack of reaction, one that is telling about the spiritual and moral status of our society.

It is an empirically well established fact that the behaviour of a social elite directs the behaviour of ordinary members of the respective society; this, after all, explains the phenomenon that the rates of violent crime sometime rise in countries that sanction these crimes by the death penalty, contrary to the traditional “general prevention” hypothesis. A state that is willing to take a person's life sends a message, sometimes a subliminal one, to the citizens, that it is acceptable to take another's life. Similarly, the public elite of a society, its most prodigious members, popular actors, cultural workers, journalists, all help shape public opinion by their own views. This is witnessed in Serbia by the broad popularity of pro-European ideas and political preferences; as most public personalities agree on the need for a Eurepeanisation of Serbia, the majority of the people agree, too. What, then, happens in a society where cultural and public workers do not react to such a disgrace as is present in the building of a storage facility on top of the grave of 250 people killed violently? What does it tell us about the values of the “cultural avant-garde”, and how does this bear upon what Ivo Andrić has phrased for history as the low value of life in “our parts”.

Human life appears to be the cheepist commodity in the Balkans, and until this tragic fact is fundamentally changed, there can be no better or more efficient social organisation, or a more dignified position for the citizen; until this is addressed through an honest and healing public debate, there cannot be more normal, let alone fraternal, relations between the nations of the region that border each other.