In memoriam: Srdja Popovic
A Representative of Victims
In Serbian society, or rather non-society, as he called it, to most of his opponents he was nothing but a mere annoyance, one that needlessly disrupted the national consensus regarding more or less insane ideas. He was like an unwelcome award to a winner who does not know what do with it
Srdja Popovic died in Belgrade on October 29th. For many years, he had been a determined and unrelenting fighter for human rights and a distinguished lawyer, whose engagement marked decades of struggles for the freedom of speech and for the joining of critical opinions and artistic creation. He was a political analyst of the chaotic present and provided precise, but gloomy outlooks. He defended many who were less courageous or educated than he was, true democrats and, as it turned out, true scoundrels. He fought for their right to appear in public without being abused. He never regretted defending that right, even though he later became a fierce opponent of his best-known clients, some of whom ended up participating in the mass murders of innocent people and the brutal destruction of the country he considered his own.
The line Srdja Popovic drew after his last publicly known big case, namely, shedding light on the political background of the murder of Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic, is testimony to his dedication to ideals, to life and to a career free of calculations and dedicated to fighting for the principles of justice, fairness and freedom. Measured through the years his clients spent in prison or through the number of booked burned, Srdja Popovic was and remained a loser among the thousands of litigants and the resourceful and well-positioned shysters. He used nobody as a connection, not at any instance, and few gave his clients a fair trial, even according to the poor and conservative laws of the time.
From this perspective, it would surely be better if some of Popovic’s clients had not said a single word in public. At the time though, in the sixties or later, he did not think so, and he may not even have asked himself how much it had cost him and whether it was worth it. As if, for many years, he were using the inevitable defeats in fighting the powerful and haughty to build up a major victory.
He wrote hundreds of thousands of pages to defend the freedom of thought and expression, some of which are considered by people in the profession to be brilliant and landmark. However, the state propaganda stigmatised him in a major way for his signing of a letter in September 1993. In that letter, together with selected intellectuals from all over the world, he demanded the use of force against the armed forces of the Bosnian Serbs, who were killing Sarajevo. He demanded that the aggressor be publicly warned that “forced changes of the borders or ethnic cleansing, whether organized by Serbia in Croatia or Bosnia and Herzegovina, or by Croatia in Bosnia, will not be tolerated, let alone recognised”. Again, just like during peacetime, he represented the victims.
He sent a message from New York at the time saying, “Of course I am a citizen of Yugoslavia, with a Yugoslav passport and I would gladly return, had Milosevic not destroyed Yugoslavia. I have nowhere to go back to. What he calls Yugoslavia is nothing but a bloody lair of scoundrels”.
From the beginning of the nineties, his engagement became primarily anti-war. He set up the independent weekly Vreme, one of the fiercest answers to the hegemonistic and Greater Serbia politics of Belgrade. In his last interview, given in September of this year, he reminded us about that period and said that the disastrous consequences of the nationalism stirred up at the time are still among us. He gave us, as usual, an unrelenting, tragic and discouraging diagnosis, “I think that Milosevic raped Serbia and that Serbia is having a hard time accepting that. The degree of crawling before him, the degree of fear, the arrogance and violence that he exhibited… that is humiliating. We lived to see the intervention by NATO, we lost all credibility and reputation in the world, we went financially and morally bankrupt, and society is in such a state that it is difficult to talk about a society at all”.
Srdja Popovic inspired everyone and made those fortunate enough to talk to him a better person. He bought people with his humour and with the charm of a true gentlemen. Without any hidden agenda, taught young people without obligation, uttered thoughtful opinions and expressed his doubts unambiguously and with authority.
In Serbian society, or rather, non-society, as he called it, to most of his opponents he was nothing but a mere annoyance, one that unnecessarily disrupted the national consensus regarding more or less insane ideas. He was like an unwelcome award to a winner who does not know what do with it.
In the sea of paragraphs, submissions, requests, lawsuits, appeals and letters of rejection, he was, above all, a human being.