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My Country, right or wrong?

Vienna. During her keynote speech “The Balkans – A Future in Present Tense” for the BCC 2009 on the 7th July in Vienna, Biljana Srbljanovic made a clear stand for a different concept of society aside the predominant ideologies of patriotism, nationalism and neo-liberalism. The statement of the Serbian Author and political activist had a highly controversial impact on the auditorium formed by young students from the various countries of South East Europe.

“I would like all of us to agree on patriotism”. Already the first sentence of Mrs. Srbljanovic's speech proved to be a guarantee for very controversial reactions. It has to be of high importance for each society to overcome a shallow concept of nationalism that only breeds new conflicts and find a way to really bring people together, the author stated. This is especially true for the Balkans which societies’ were coined by a violent and brutal recent history. In the course of her speech Mrs. Srbljanovic heavily criticized what she called the “Nationalist Diaspora”, i.e. persons who live abroad but nevertheless actively foster nationalism in their home countries. Patriotism, she claimed, needs to be a common attitude of citizens towards their own society, not solely a mean of the political or intellectual elite of a country to promote and prolong mutual hatred between neighboring countries. Such a new concept of nationalism and solidarity, Mrs. Srbljanovic said further, is even more necessary nowadays, as nationalism often enough entails neo-liberalism, which makes it very difficult for the already weak civic societies of the Balkan countries to prevail. Neo-liberalism, on the other hand, pushes people to only look after themselves. In the consequence, others – notably persons from other countries – are very easily turned into scapegoats for one’s own misery, concluded Mrs. Srbljanovic. Therefore she ended her speech with the vivid plea: “We must get together and come to an agreement on what the world should be that we want to live in.”

As one can imagine, the reactions to this rather harsh critique of dominant ideologies couldn’t have been more different. Many of the listeners in the audience interpreted Mrs. Srbljanovic’s statements as a critique of values they were raised upon and that they strongly believe in. Therefore they felt that the speech was a direct critique of them as a person. On the other hand, other persons in the audience welcomed the plea to overcome violent nationalism and start a new era of relationship, based on mutual respect rather than a tradition of hatred and despise. Put aside which opinion one personally has regarding this matter, Mrs. Srbljanovic made one thing very clear: Nationalism and patriotism are not obsolete concepts and are still growing strong, especially in South East Europe. To foster, overcome or alter them in any way will be the task of those young people that were gathered together in the venerable halls of the University of Vienna that very day.

Read the full speech of Biljana Srbljanovic here.