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Does Serbian Culture Celebrate Genocide?

Lee Phillips
July 30th, 2008

The author Aleksandar Hemon has written a provocative essay that has appeared in the New York Times, where I saw it, and in its global edition, the International Herald Tribune. He writes on the occasion of the belated arrest of Radovan Karadzic for genocidal war crimes; he points out that Karadzic lives and acts very much in a tradition expressed in Serbian epic poetry, that quite unambiguously celebrates genocide. Mr. Hemon is polite enough not to raise certain questions, but they can not fail to arise in the minds of his readers. Was the Serbian response, ranging mainly from apathy to eager complicity, in the savagery directed against the Bosnian Muslims in their midst, another example of, to use a phrase that has become banal from overwork, “the banality of evil”? Or are Serbs programmed, or at least influenced by certain of their cultural traditions, to think that genocide, especially directed against this particular group, is noble? If the latter is the case, what can be done about it? Can it be fixed? Can Serbian children be reëducated? Who has the moral authority, along with the legal authority, to undertake such a thing?

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