“You Serbs started the last century with wars, you ended it with wars… What are you preparing for this century?” – This question Henry Kissinger asked Živorad Kovačević in the early 2000s, when two old friends, great diplomats, met in America, where they had met many years ago – one as head of the State Department and the other as a young ambassador of socialist Yugoslavia. And really, what is it that Serbia and the United States can offer each other, in order to thoroughly redefine their relations in the remaining four-fifths of the 21st century, and improve them to the level they had in the period from the beginning of the Henry Kissinger’s question?
We cannot and would not want to wish for the kind of relations that prevailed in the time of Mihajlo Pupin and Woodrow Wilson. For today’s world, those were romantic times in which honor, a given word, a sense of respect for the other, and even for the enemy were valued… Serbian-American relations were charged with an alliance gained in battle, a brotherhood in the blood of the First World War , but also by the common aspiration for the world to be more connected in progress after the cataclysm and to strive for lasting peace. Mihajlo Pupin’s Serbia and Woodrow Wilson’s America were like two lovers who had never met, but they had a sublime idea of each other from the passionate letters that flew across the ocean.
Today, they are completely digitalized, America a little more, Serbia a little less. They still speak the same code that Pupin and Wilson spoke a hundred years ago. They want societies based on the same values – freedom, justice for everyone, societies that see their strength in the number of alliances they have built, not in the number of enemies they have gained. Is it not enough for the advanced 21st century in which it is becoming fashionable to be self-sufficient, isolated, angry at those who are different?
Serbia and America, its people, have no problem with each other. Imagine excluding everything that is American from your life in today’s Serbia? Or exclude from the life of Americans only one thing, which has to do with one (American) Serb – alternating current. Both would go back to the Stone Age.
It is time for a new partnership, and even friendship between Serbs and Americans. We are not building it on bare land, we have a strong foundation for it, although we have allowed it (both of us) to grow into grass. Awareness and memory of our strong historical ties and the ties of their people were the biggest victims of our Cold War in the 1990s, and then the “hot” war of 1999. The anti-Western and especially anti-American
policy that was ruling at the time succeeded almost impossible – to marginalize Serbia’s traditional inclination towards America and its culture and values in the collective memory, and even in everyday life. At the same time, reckless American foreign policy managed to turn Serbia into a pariah state in the middle of Europe, a monster that everyone should be afraid of until the end of time.
Serbia and America, and above all their people, are obliged to end this historical anomaly, because the state of enmity between the two countries and the two nations is an anomaly, it is not our natural state. Too much time, too much money, even too much unfortunate human destinies have passed for us to spend even a single day longer as opponents of America, and America as a persecutor of Serbia.
We must not rely only on politicians to find a way out, but we must ask them to bring ideas and good will to move up. The American engagement in resolving the issue of Kosovo and the Serbian acceptance of that engagement is a giant step towards restoring trust and partnership on the paths of old glory. But that should not end there.
Anti-American and, in general, anti-Western discourse in our media, in our professorial lectures, and even in church sermons, it is not an authentic Serbian discourse. It is a forcibly planted coil of some strange variety that has never been reproduced here. It does not want Serbia among advanced and emancipated nations, it is afraid of knowledge, competition and rivalry, it calls for a return to the misty caves of the Middle Ages. It is simply not Serbia as we have it today, and especially not Serbia as it should be in the future.
Serbia and America, and especially their people, are opening a window that can lead them into a new era of strong partnership and even friendship. However, this window will not be open forever. To pass through it means to enter the train of modern Europe and America, that part of humanity which is its mover and its best part for life. To allow the window to close, we would “draw” just another notch with our missed historical opportunities, but with the difference that this notch would probably be the last.