A response to Dragan Plavšić

Book cover: From Myth to Symptom, the Case of Kosovo, by Slavoy Zizek and Agon Hamza, KMD, Pristina, 2013

Book cover: From Myth to Symptom, the Case of Kosovo, by Slavoy Zizek and Agon Hamza, KMD, Pristina, 2013

I want to begin by thanking LeftEast for publishing Dragan Plavšić’s article “Did Somebody Say Ethnic Partition? A Critique of Žižek on Kosovo and the Balkans” (see parts [1], [2], [3], [4]) on the book that I co-authored with Slavoj Žižek. From Myth to Symptom: the case of Kosovo was published over a year and a half ago. I am also grateful to Mr.Plavšić for the time and effort he put into reading our short book with scrutiny. However, from the period of publishing until now, many things have happened, both in the Republic of Kosovo and in the Republic of Serbia, as well as in our relations as separate and (up to a point) independent countries. I shall come back to this in the following paragraphs of this article. But, before engaging in a response to Mr. Plavšić’s article, I want to make a short detour to consider some very important things and events, which to my surprise, were completely neglected by Mr. Plavšić’s almost surgical examination of the book. I hope the reader will permit me doing this. Nonetheless, I would like to make a few preliminary remarks:

1) Mr. Plavšić’s remarks on who and what Slavoj Žižek is are irrelevant, in the sense that personal descriptions are never worth replying to. Mr. Plavšić intends to engage in systematic critique of Žižek’s position, unfortunately his essay does not live up to his promises which he makes in its beginning. In this reply, I shall endeavour to show where and how Mr. Plavšić deviates from what he thinks should be our common ground.

2) A curious detail: Mr.Plavšić is generous enough to provide a geographic and ethnic description of my persona: “Agon Hamza, a Kosovo Albanian intellectual” (p.1). It is a very contradictory move, taking into account what he aims to do in his ‘very critical paper,’ namely going beyond “ethno-centric reasoning.” Besides this, whoever is versed with minimal knowledge on the Albanian-Serbian question, cannot fail to notice the little word “Albanian intellectual.” Mr. Plavšić’s racism comes out spontaneously, and this is something that cannot be simply ignored.[i] Nevertheless, I hope he feels good in finally finding an interlocutor who is an intellectual and at the same time, an Albanian.

But, lets not pay too much attention to these details. What is more important is a debate among comrades, on the questions that are of crucial importance for the Left in this region.

Mr. Plavšić’s intentions can be summarised as following: first, we should make the distinction between “what he wants to say” and what “he actually says”. What I think is that Mr. Plavšić wants to criticise Žižek but ends up criticising his own prejudice, as it often happens with people approaching Žižek’s work. He intends to argue against Žižek’s position, but there is one little problem: that is not Žižek’s own position! Secondly, he intends to argue against Žižek’s position towards developments in the Balkans, which he characterises as contradictory to what the Left and Žižek’s overall project stands for. By violating the principles of his own “leftist, anti-capitalist project for our times”, by which I presume Mr. Plavšić is referring to Žižek’s universalism, which the latter so rightly (and passionately) defends, Žižek supposedly regresses into what Mr.Plavšić calls “ethno-centric reasoning.” Furthermore, the article intends to mark two divisions: firstly, between the two chapters that comprise the book, namely presenting Žižek’s and my position as contradictory, thus dividing between the “good guy” and the “bad guy.” Moreover, Mr. Plavšić brings Alain Badiou in the game. In this paper he marks the second, and the last, division and in this regard, Badiou’s name comes in the game as an excuse in his attempt to make him “superior” to Žižek. But, this is nothing new: in academia there are too many people working hard on fortifying the division between Žižek and Badiou. Against this current, we should repeat the excellent dialectical move of the collective Acheronta Movebo: its not “about Žižek” and “about Badiou”, but it is Žižekian and Badiouian.[ii] In this sense, Mr. Plavšić is failing miserably in what I think is one of the main tasks of contemporary progressive thinking: he fails in exploring the productive tension between the two.

Further, Badiou’s name is supposed to be the final position, which is also the true position in the Balkan matters, thereby opposing the logic of  “ethno-centric reasoning,” which is supposedly embedded in Žižek’s chapter.

Louis Althusser used to say that in philosophy, one begins from the end. I shall follow this dictum and begin with Badiou’s text on the NATO bombing against Yugoslavia and his analysis on the problem(s) of nationalisms in the former-Yugoslavia. Mr. Plavšić stages a debate between Badiou and Žižek which he finds in their responses to the post-Yugoslav wars. He quotes this passage from Badiou’s short article “On the War against Serbia: Who Strikes Whom in the World Today?”:

The Serb nationalism is worthless. But in what [way] is it worse than others? It is more broad, more expanded, more armed, it had without any doubt more occasions to exercise its criminal passion. But this only depends on circumstances. /…/ Let us suppose that, tomorrow, the KLA of the Kosovar nationalists will take power: can one imagine that one Serb will remain in Kosovo? Outside the victimising rhetorics, we haven’t seen one good political reason to prefer a Kosovar (or Croat, or Albanian, or Slovene, or Muslim-Bosnian) nationalist to the Serb nationalist.[iii]

My first answer is: but do we really need Badiou to tell us that nationalism should be rejected? The principled rejection of all nationalisms eliminates the very problem it is concerned with. If all are nationalists, then no one is a nationalist. But, lets examine this a bit closer.

In principle, of course, I entirely agree with Badiou. All nationalisms are the same. Their differences are purely contingent, i.e., quantitative. But just because these differences are contingent, it does not follow that they are, therefore, irrelevant. Badiou, therefore, confuses pure contingency with conjectural irrelevance. It does matter, between the two warring nationalisms, who is the aggressor and who is the victim (of the aggression). It may well be the case that under different circumstances the victim would have been the aggressor. But that is another case. It, therefore, becomes mandatory that something must be done to stop the aggression. Badiou’s line of reasoning – as presented in Mr. Plavšić’s text – will necessarily lead to the tacit endorsement of the aggressor’s nationalism. While it may be theoretically consistent that the people of the Balkans should worked towards the creation of a Balkan confederation and supranational institutions, it does not thereby follow that this is a principle that applies to situations like that of Kosovo during the war of independence. Badiou’s logic, properly speaking, has validity, only in the post-independence Kosovo, when the people of Kosovo have become freer than they had been prior to their independence. The problem therefore with Badiou’s position as selectively presented by Mr. Plavšić[iv] is that it is unable to account for the problem of the oppression of x over y.

While there are clearly theoretical inconsistencies in Žižek’s logic regarding the case of Kosovo’s ethnic determination, as well as his endorsement of the more problematic Greater Albania/Bulgaria, it is also obvious that Žižek, on purely pragmatic grounds, refused to take the side of the aggressor. In this case he sacrificed a theoretical consistency for a practical/immediate solution. First, we end the aggression then we sit and talk theory. Clearly, to maintain that, under those circumstances, Albanians should have been left at the mercy of Miloševič’s army-backed lunacies was out of question; it would have led to even greater expulsion and subjugation, or even ethnic cleansing, of Albanians. On what grounds could we have justified such aggression? Clearly Badiou’s logic is incapable of providing a feasible solution, since it ends up supporting the aggressor. Why should the Albanians pay the price of being the scapegoat of an equally vicious Serbian nationalism?

We, therefore, have a situation of theoretical blindness: either we choose to sacrifice the victim (Mr. Plavšić-Badiou), or we side with the victim of the aggression (Žižek). There is no universal yardstick that would consistently apply to situations like these. If anything, these situations have to be assessed pragmatically and contextually. Only after the situation has stabilised, can we begin to think of ways to undo what was pragmatically necessary to do. It is thus of crucial importance that Serbia, and in particular the Serbian left, unconditionally accepts the independence of Kosovo. This is the premise of any debate about the building of supranational institutions. Anything less is unacceptable because it is a continuation of those policies that led to the creation of the KLA and the declaration of independence. The problems of the ethnic independence of Kosovo cannot, therefore, be engaged with separately from the problem of the Serb aggression. It is a matter of freeing up the efficacy of the very theoretical space which is currently being deployed under the wrong condition: only once such a pragmatic question has been settled, will all the right words appearing in Mr. Plavšić’s writings acquire the meaning that he thinks that they have. Until then, such a debate not only contributes to the perpetuation of the problem, but also endangers the usefulness of otherwise crucial conceptual categories. It is not only our political, but also our philosophical duty to suspend the theoretical debate when its position of enunciation corrupts what is being enunciated. In the post-independence situation, the problem of the ethnic independence cannot be engaged with prior the Serbian recognition of Kosovo. Here we stand, and only from here can we move forward.

But, lets make one more remark on the problem of nationalism. Badiou writes: “since the beginning of the conflict, the Westerners have in effect sided only – and awkwardly – with weak (Bosnian, Kosovar) nationalism against strong (Serb and subsidiary Croat) nationalism.” Where did Badiou’s position go wrong? Lets do something that, to my surprise, Mr. Plavšić’s very critical eye failed to notice, and use a very interesting quote from Žižek’s chapter:

The ultimate irony of such a nostalgic Leftist longing for the lost Yugoslavia is that it ends up identifying as the successor of Yugoslavia the very force that actually killed it: the Serbia of Miloševič. In the post-Yugoslav crisis of the 1990s, what could be said to embody the positive legacy of Titoist Yugoslavia – its much-praised multiculturalist tolerance -was (‘Muslim’) Bosnia: the Serb aggression against Bosnia was (also) the aggression of Miloševič, the first true post-Titoist (the first Yugoslav politician who really acted as if Tito was dead, as a perceptive Serb social scientist put it more than a decade ago), against those who clung desperately to the Titoist legacy of ethnic ‘brotherhood and unity’. No wonder the supreme commander of the ‘Muslim’ army was General Rasim Delič, an ethnic Serb; no wonder that, all through the 1990s, ‘Muslim’ Bosnia was the only part of ex-Yugoslavia in whose government offices Tito’s portraits were still hanging. To obliterate this crucial aspect of the Yugoslav war, and to reduce the Bosnian conflict to civil war between different ‘ethnic groups’ in Bosnia, is not a neutral gesture, but a gesture that adopts in advance the standpoint of one of the sides in the conflict (Serbia).

Perhaps Mr. Plavšić should have “critically” analysed the whole predicament from this position also. Nevertheless, I want to make the last remark on the misuse (or, even conscious misinterpretation) of Badiou’s position, from the perspective of his general philosophical project. Yes, Badiou’s text is very weak and only those who lack the minimal knowledge of the historical-political conjunctures in the Balkans could celebrate it. However, anyone who is minimally acquainted with Badiou’s work would filter it through the thousands of pages of his written books and papers. Mr. Plavšić has chosen NOT to do so, and therefore he is hiding behind Badiou’s name in order to present own his very “beautiful soulish” argument. But, let us concentrate a bit more on Badiou’s text itself without going through Mr. Plavšić’s mediation. There, Badiou also writes:

The worst thing is not that philosophy is linked to bloody and daring undertakings. For in this case it remains, even when in extreme error, on the side of invention, on the side of the genius of the weak, on the side of a power to come. The worst thing is to link it, purely and simply, to the arrogance and the self-satisfaction of the master in place.[v]

What Badiou is saying here is that beyond and above the critique of nationalism, philosophy MUST, within the conjuncture, side with the victims of the “masters in place”: that is even in error philosophy must stay with the weak. In this regard, I would highly recommend Mr. Plavšić to really study Badiou’s work. It is also of great political significance, which I am sure would be of central help for Mr. Plavšić’s “internationalism.”

But, lets consider more this point: on which side should the Left be? This is a crucial question, not only for the “case of Kosovo,” but it is indeed a problem that has been following the Left for a long time. Today, it is enough to look at cases like Ukraine or Syria, and we see how the Left is not only far from having a unified position, but also that it is perplexed about whose side it should take. One thing is clear, however: the repetition of old formulas in different situations and contexts simply doesn’t work. This is not a historicist position, namely arguing that we should take into account the actual socio-political, ideological and cultural context in order to be able to access the situation, et cetera. More than this, taking sides has to do with having a position, which seems to be something that the Left is incapable of producing. Let’s use the case of Kosovo. I argue that there are two principles that the Left cannot neglect without ceasing to be left: they should defend the right of the oppressed to liberate themselves from the oppressors, and they should do this because this is the only right thing to do. In my chapter on the book, which is the object of this debate, I paraphrase Max Horkheimer dictum “who doesn’t want to talk critically about capitalism, should remain silent about fascism” and I argue “who doesn’t want to talk critically about the apartheid of the 90’s in Kosovo, should remain silent about the NATO bombing.” Today, I will add: especially the (post)independence period. Further, I was mainly addressing to the Western Left, whereas today, more than ever, I would add: especially the Serbian Left. Why? There are two reasons.

In his Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel talks about the concept of ‘the beautiful soul.’ According to him,

the “beautiful soul”, being conscious of this contradiction in its unreconciled immediacy, is unhinged, disordered, and runs to madness, wastes itself in yearning, and pines away in consumption. Thereby it gives up, as a fact, its stubborn insistence on its own isolated self-existence, but only to bring forth the soulless, spiritless unity of abstract being.[vi]

The ‘beautiful soul’ is a passive victim or a benevolent spectator who occupies such a position which elevates him/her to a higher moral position and who is always afraid of wrongdoings. What the beautiful soul tends to forget is, that moral insights don’t have a say on how the spirit actualises itself and takes its given form: in this enterprise, the moral insights fall into oblivion. The ‘beautiful soul’ always presents a gentle and sensitive form of subjectivity, which always occupies the position of an observer and without doing anything, she/he complains about and deplores the world as it is – but from a safe distance.

What better can describe the position of the Serbian Left with regard to the “case of Kosovo,” than the Hegelian “beautiful soul”? Their position of inactivity towards the developments in Kosovo, is exactly the way in which the falsity of the beautiful soul is structured. The question of “taking sides” is also a question of solidarity, obviously an unknown term for the so-called Serbian Left in general. Yes, we can talk about a few honourable exceptions, but they are too few in number as well as in impact. Perhaps, ever since the good old Dimitrije Tucovič, whose legacy Mr. Plavšić claims to bear today in the contemporary Left in Serbia, the Kosovo Albanians in their struggle for liberation, freedom and equality didn’t have the solidarity from what should be considered most progressive part of every society. This is the sad truth, and is one of the main obstacles for any collaboration between the Left from the two countries. The only ideological-political wing that expressed, and continues to express, rather active solidarity with Kosovo are the liberals and the human rights organisations in Serbia. Indeed this is quite a depressing predicament, and equally embarrassing for the Serbian Left itself. While we all love to (rightly so) to engage in a series of EU/US/NATO bashing, however when the people from the Serbian Left are asked a very simple question, such as “what is the position of your organisation/collective towards Kosovo?”, the immediate answer you get is this: “Kosovo is a complicated question/matter, so therefore we prefer not to engage with it.” This expresses the hypocritical position of the Serbian Left at its best, as well as their ultimate failure. Serbia doesn’t recognise the right of self-determination (to secession) for the people of Kosovo.

In this sense, the Republic of Serbia is a colonising force, since 1912, as Tucovič and some members of Marks21 maintain. The occupation was developed in Tucovič’s “Serbia and Albania: A Contribution to the Critique of the Conqueror Policy of the Serbian Bourgeoisie”, or reported in Leon Trotsky’s reports The Balkan Wars 1912-1913.[vii] Perhaps, the Serbian Left should be reminded of Tucovič’s position: “with the occupying politics employed by the Serbian government against the Albanian people, in the western borders of Serbia such relations were created, that in the near future we can hardly expect any peace or normality.”[viii] Unfortunately, the situation is almost the same: peace is temporal and the situation is anything but normal. In this situation, we should evoke Lenin. In his little book from 1914 (which, incidentally, was written at the same year as Tucovič’s book) The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, Lenin’s position is very unambiguous. Thus, he argues that:

the proletariat cannot but fight against the forcible retention of the oppressed nations within the boundaries of a given state, and this is exactly what the struggle for the right of self-determination means. The proletariat must demand the right of political secession for the colonies and for the nations that ‘its own’ nation oppresses. Unless it does this, proletarian internationalism will remain a meaningless phrase; mutual confidence and class solidarity between the workers of the oppressing and oppressed nations will be impossible[ix]

Lenin is clear: the oppressed should be allowed to succeed from the oppressing state despite its outcome, that is to say, despite of the fact of who takes power afterwards, as it is the case with Kosovo where Hashim Thaçi became the Prime Minister (shortly before the declaration of independence in 2008). As for the Balkans, in his polemics against Rosa Luxembourg, Lenin wrote that “the example of the Balkan states likewise contradicts her, for anyone can now see that the best conditions for the development of capitalism in the Balkans are created precisely in proportion to the creation of independent national states in that peninsula.”

The Serbian Left could learn this lesson. The least they can do in the existing situation is the unconditional support for the right of self-determination for the people of Kosovo. The independence of Kosovo is not an abstract metaphysical construction; the independence of Kosovo is the name for equality and freedom! And equality and freedom are the premises of any Leftist project! The Left in Serbia is in no position to talk about Kosovo, precisely because they expressed no solidarity whatsoever with our common cause. It is the common cause because, in the last instance, the liberation of Kosovo from Serbia is also the liberation of Serbia itself: liberation from its position of coloniser. The dominator has to be liberated from its domination. However, if the Left in Serbia is incapable of joining us in the common struggle, then they should strip off themselves from their symbolic mandate of the regional advisers, who always take the position of the patroniser, as it is the case with Mr. Plavšič’s text. We need neither educational tips, nor moral support. Since the Left in Serbia is incapable of providing full, and unconditional, solidarity with our liberation struggle, than the minimal ethical integrity would tell us that they should remain silent about everything that happens in Kosovo. Lot of things have happened in Kosovo since 2008; and lots of things will obviously continue to happen. However, it is very depressing to see, and engage in, a very old debate about the left’s position apropos the right to self-determination. But, this seems to be our situation: we are incapable of assessing the reality of our predicament, to act within it, and therefore, we seek refugee in old, boring and meaningless concepts.

In conclusion, I would encourage Mr. Plavšič and his comrades to think about the situation of the Left in Serbia, and its relation to Kosovo. It is indeed depressing to realise that a century ago, the Left in the Republic of Serbia was far more progressive than it is now. Dimitrije Tucovič and his comrade were not speaking from the position of the beautiful soul. As far as it concerns me, I consider this debate closed.

 

AgonAgon Hamza is completing his PhD in philosophy, on Hegel and Althusser. He is a co-founder and a member of the international collective Dialectical Materialism Collective and serves as the editor-in-chief of the international philosophical journal Crisis and Critique.  His latest publication is a co-authored book with Slavoj Žižek, entitled From Myth to Symptom: The Case of Kosovo and Louis Althusser (2013) and Për Althusserin (2012).

 



[i] I am well aware that this accusation is serious and embarrassing for Mr.Plavšič. However, it is a just one. It is the right thing to do because by portraying me as a “Kosovo Albanian intellectual”, he is regressing into two levels: as I said, an ethnic and geographic description, as well as in reaffirming an old Yugoslav racist cliché of Albanians as second class citizens, who all of a sudden, became intellectuals, as I appear in Mr.Plavšič’s gaze. Recall the Serbian nationalist propaganda during the early 70’s after establishing the University of Prishtina, when according to this propaganda, every single diploma of this University is a fake one and it is taken in a very quick procedure. The shock with which the accusation of racism is received should be in fact analysed on the two levels of displacement which alone justify such response: first, because who would really be surprised after having read Mr.Plavšič’s comment? And second, because such a shock detracts from the TRULY shocking issue, the situation of the Serbian Left, which is the actual theme of this text

[ii] For more on this, I suggest the readers to see: http://materializmidialektik.org/crisis-and-critique-n-2/

[iii] Alain Badiou, Polemics, trans. Steve Corcoran, London: Verso, 2006, p.62-72

[iv] Against all the odds, perhaps it is even worth defending Badiou a little here. Its more than obvious that Badiou has indeed written a very bad text, highly problematic and factually wrong, his thinking is obviously more sophisticated and conjuncture-oriented than Mr. Plavšič chose to focus on. We should make him responsible for this poor selection of emphasis, with which Badiou’s project stands in absolute negation.

[v] Badiou 2006: 72

[vi] G. W, F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, available at: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/ph/phc2cc.htm

[vii] Leon Trotsky, The Balkan Wars 1912-13, Atlanta: Pathfinder Press, 1981. Incidentally, Marks21, a “revolutionary anti-capitalist organization” (!) belongs to the Trotskyst and Tucovič’s tradition. However, unlike both Trotsky’s and Tucovič’s organizations, Marks21 remains a marginal and insignificant player in the otherwise weak Serbian Left scene.

[viii] Dimitrije Tucovič, Serbia dhe Shqipëria: kontribut në kritikën e politikës pushtuese të borgjezisë serbe, në Zgjedhje Punimesh II, Prishtinë: Rilindja, 1981, p.262-3.

[ix] V.I.Lenin, The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, available online at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1914/self-det/

 

4 Responses to A response to Dragan Plavšić

  1. Andrej Grubacic says:

    OPEN LETTER TO LEFTEAST EDITORIAL BOARD

    Dear comrades,

    I am writing to you to thank you for this wonderful intellectual feast, the precious and much needed debate on Kosovo, Slavoj Zizek, and the Balkan left. I am, however, writing with some hesitation, and some urgency. I enjoyed thoroughly the constructive and well-argued contributions offered by comrade Plavsic. I was looking forward to a similar reply coming from comrade Hamza. Imagine my surprise when, instead of arguments and polemical vigor, I woke up to baseless accusations of racism, slurs, and fighting words that cancel out any possibility for a meaningful, indeed political, dialogue. As you might remember, I was myself involved in a public debate with Dragan Plavsic in 2007. This was one of the most pleasant intellectual exchanges I have ever had. I have learned tremendously from Dragan, and the debate, I was later told, had advanced the conversation about this topic despite–or because of?–our lively disagreement. In this current debate, published on LeftEast, Dragan had employed the same lively but generous approach. His argumentation was careful, well developed, betraying nothing but utmost respect for his opponent. I am writing to you because you are editors of arguably the most relevant radical web publication in Eastern Europe. I would like to request that your web site publish a public apology. Further, I would like to ask you to moderate comments that include bellicose arguments, slurs, and defamations. I could not agree more with comrade Hamza that the left in the region is very weak. We are all doing the best we can to contribute to making it stronger. Your publication has been a splendid example in this regard. Contributions like the one I have just read are politically dangerous, and this incident should not be taken lightly.

    In Solidarity,

    Dr Andrej Grubacic
    Associate Professor and Department Chair
    Anthropology and Social Change
    California Institute of Integral Studies
    1453 Mission St.
    San Francisco, CA 94103

    • Armanda says:

      Mr. Andrej,
      you write: In solidarity
      i wonder: with who?
      further, are you proposing censorship?

      • Andrej Grubacic says:

        Hi Armanda,

        With everyone fighting for freedom and equality in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. This would include Plavsic, Hamza, and the entire left east group. Censorship? Not at all. I think that lefteast has a great editorial policy . Contributors are asked not to use fighting words and language that obstructs dialogue. I would think that accusation of racism, published on an influential radical portal, constitutes just such an obstacle. Comrades accused of such things face a threat of reputational damage, and the harsh language employed has negative consequences for the relationship in the region. For a very different response to Dragan’s ideas, see my own debate from 5 years ago: http://zcomm.org/debating-balkans-kosovo/ . What i would like to ask moderators to do is to honor this (excellent) editorial policy by moderating contributions. I am sure that you would agree with me that moderation and editorial politics are not the same as censorship. Solid, Andrej

  2. Dimitar Anakiev says:

    Perhaps mentioning Badiou is not the best strategy in criticism on Žižek but similar inadequate strategy is using Hegel in criticism on Plavšić. There is not factual reason to consider phrase “Albanian intellectual” racist. The only thing you can say is that you are not treated equally is his comment as known author Žižek. You must know that pushing yourself in company of commercial philosophers brings some consequences because people devoted to some principles are not very keen of “Pop-Leftism”. So, if the only price of being in company of Pop-star is the phrase “Albanian intellectual” that’s not so bad, only your author’s ego is hurt… In future, think twice about company 🙂

LeftEast is a platform that supports free expression in a climate of equally free speech for all persons that want to participate. This is why we shall moderate any comments that engage in discrimination, fighting words, or lead to an obstruction of dialogue and we shall ban the involved user from our community. Unless signed by the editorial board, articles do not necessarily express the opinion of the editorial board as a whole, but are positions within larger debates we would like to bring to the attention of our readers.