Wonderful Name and Holy Freedom
For Njegoš, belonging to a nation is a metaphysical and religious category, not sociological and historical. Patriotism is a path to immortality of mortal beings, ”electrism of the soul”. The ”Kosovo Notion”, spiritually prepared by St. Sava, was legalized by Njegoš with his poetic-prophetic proclamations. Poetry is a defense against anxiety, turmoil and shallowness, man’s response to God, a road to understanding hidden truths of the world. If it gives up on high standards of book and culture, the Serbian Literary Cooperative will lose both the reason and meaning of its existence

By: Bane Velimirović
Photo: Personal archive

His studies are an important contribution to studying Serbian culture and Serbian concept, from Theater of the Irrational (1988), Mysticism of Serbian Romanticism (2004) and Nation on the Border (2011), to Njegoš’s Nationalism (2020). Duško Babić, PhD, is leaving a bright trace in Serbian poetry, from Anxieties (1988) to his collection If We Are not Love (2017), and further. He was director of the Philology Gymnasium in Belgrade for 10 years, and since late 2019, manager of the Serbian Literary Cooperative, one of the two oldest and most important Serbian publishers. His book about Njegoš, published by Catena Mundi, has been attracting particular attention in the recent months.

On all levels of consideration, from spiritual-theological to metahistorical and literary-artistic, what is the core of Njegoš’s nationalism?
The nature of Njegoš’s nationalism is determined by his understanding of ethnicity (nationality, nation, lineage, clan) as a timeless, anthropological phenomenon. In its primary designation, belonging to a national community is a metaphysical and religious category for him, not sociological and historical. Nationality is a condition for the ”life of the soul”, a medium in which a man realizes and saves himself, ascends towards the Creator. That is why Bishop Nikolaj of Žiča claimed that Njegoš’s nationalism is part of his religion, or that it is essentially – faith. Nationalism/patriotism is a ”divine spark forged / in the flames of the immortal fire”, as stated in the famous poem Salute to the Nation. Patriotism is a path towards immortality of a mortal being, ”electrism of the soul” for gaining an ”honorable name”. A man without patriotism is ”like a weak animal”, ”a sculpture without a soul”.

Important Serbian authors such as holy Nikolaj of Serbia and Ivo Andrić, Žarko Vidović and Mile Lompar wrote essays and studies about Njegoš’s philosophy, ideology, ethics, religion, even his understanding of national identity. Where is Njegoš’s place in Serbian culture and Serbian concept today?
The authors you have mentioned, and not only them, saw more than poetry and highest rank beauty in Njegoš’s work – proclamation of basic truths of our history and identity, a key to understanding the being and fate of the nation. In such poetic-prophetic proclamations, the poet is not merely a herald and interpreter of the national being – he becomes its permanent part. That is the position from which I approached interpreting Njegoš. He became part of the substance of Serbian language, understanding history, faith, humaneness. Njegoš became part of the national soul. Like St. Sava, prince Lazar, Vasilije of Ostrog, Karađorđe… He remains the same today, despite the incompatibility of his ideas about man, freedom, nation, God… with the ruling cultural standards of our time.


Although Njegoš never explicitly mentioned St. Sava in his works, you show that their connections are deep and high, that the two of them are like Father and Son on the Serbian vertical?
I deeply believe it is so, although I don’t have exact facts to prove it. The connections between them are such that they cannot be found in concrete details, but in deep, spiritual consensus. Radovan Samardžić, historian, nicely noticed that, with his life and activities, St. Sava prepared Serbian people for receiving the Christian idea of eternal life, enabling the turning of the military and state defeat in Kosovo into a spiritual victory. Thus the Serbian nation received the Christian idea of salvation through suffering and sacrifice in living reality, on a battlefield, not through books and missionaries. Njegoš poetically legalized, irrevocably and eternally, what St. Sava spiritually prepared – the ”Kosovo notion”. In that sense, I see St. Sava and Njegoš as Father and Son of Serbian history and spirituality.

Another criminal socio-engineering and converting project in our times targeted Njegoš’s mystical patriotism, the stone in the foundation of Serbiandom and Montenegro. What outcome and knowledge did it bring us?
It has become clear long ago that Njegoš is the biggest problem of the new Montenegrism ideology, which can neither be surpassed nor removed. In Njegoš’s heritage, Montenegrism does not exist outside of Serbiandom – the Kosovo vow and dream of liberation and unification of all Serbian lands. Besides, from Njegoš’s patriotism aspect, in accordance with the nation’s collective memory, it is not sufficient to say that Montenegrins are part of Serbianity – they are guardians of the vow, an exodus in the hills given the task to preserve ”the wonderful name and holy freedom”. If we look a bit closer, we will see that the leader of processions for defending sanctities in Montenegro was Njegoš; his pictures and decasyllabic verses about Kosovo, Serbiandom and humaneness were in the front lines of all processions. The blessedly deceased metropolitan, bishops and priests were only ”assistants” in those activities. Faithful people were following them, while above them all were ”playful souls of great-grandfathers” and it all became an all-national ”bright holiday”.


Ever since Anxieties from 1988, you have been persistently searching for essential reflections of the world and man created by God in your poetic mirror. What are the crucial points of origin of your poetry?
Your question ”anticipated” a large part of my answer. For me, poetry is, before all, a defense against anxiety, turmoil and disorder, the shallowness of life we are pushed into by our everyday existence. Man is a being created to create meaningfully, to overcome, to ascend… not to be closed into banalities andclichés, not to be lost in weak truths and illusions. Poetry is a possibility of such realization of man, it is man’s response to God. By approaching god, man approaches truth, life, himself. It makes sense to speak about poetry as a form of cognition. It reveals the dimension of existence avoiding logical understanding – concepts, definitions, explanations, theories… Things which the language, as a gift of God, transmits with its sound and rhythm, the uncatchable fluid in which the personality, the soul pulsate. Furthermore, it’s not only the hidden truths of the world that I discover in poems; I also discover myself, new and unknown. A poem helps a poet to accept the world they live in more easily, as well themselves in that world.

It seems that an important layer of your poetry includes voices and codes of the homeland. What is and how big is the strength of all our homelands in us?
Homeland is not just a landscape, climate, area… it is an emotion which pervades us, an atavistic feeling of belonging, grown into our view, knowledge, our internal being. Thus, homeland and heritage are one of the greatest subjects of world literature, from Homer to the very day. Those subjects resulted in great poetry and deeply penetrated our national and general human truths in our literature as well. Voices of the homeland which you felt in my poems are part of my being, my understanding of the world. It is not a preference or choice, it is an imprint of personality in language, like an imprint of the forefinger on a personal document. It identifies a human even when he wants to liberate himself from it, to step over into spiritual realms wider and more layered from the heritage presentations of the world. It is something above the connections of affection and acceptation.


You are manager of the Serbian Literary Cooperative, one of the two Serbian publishers with deepest roots and highest quality standards. Can you survive in the publishing business today if you don’t accept trivialization, lowering criteria (patronizing deteriorated masses) and ”addressing the lower part of man”?
The Serbian Literary Cooperative would lose the reason and meaning of its existence if it made ”compromises with the present times” described in your question. One of the reasons of its foundation was the intention to establish high standards of creating and publishing books, at the time Serbian culture didn’t have institutions and norms regulating that area. It often happened that same people wrote, published and sold books, which were full of errors, and the text assembly and bookbinding were done in an amateur manner. A bit due to lack of knowledge and experience, more due to saving money and profit. One of the founders of the Cooperative, Stojan Novaković, gives a good picture of the situation in his study Serbian Book, published in the blue ”Kolo” edition in 1900. The Cooperative was necessary for the blossoming Serbian culture after the Berlin Congress, in order to promote books from our old times among people, as well as the best examples of contemporary authors – prose, poetry, history, essays… Ever since its beginning, the Cooperative had a strong national connotation, with the task to educate and connect, to be guardian of the nation’s tradition and identity, without ever retreating or closing itself from the world. On the contrary, it was a bridge between our culture and the most valuable works of world cultural heritage. By serving the nation, the Cooperative served ”the living idea of good on earth”, it served man and humaneness. It will continue being faithful to those principles, because ”adapting” to low taste and needs of the masses would make its existence meaningless. It certainly does not mean that we should close our eyes before contemporary trends in life and withdraw from the laws of the market. However, we need the understanding and support of the state, since our obligation is to preserve the dignity of books in Serbian culture, while others use every available means to achieve high profit.


Duško Babić (Skucani near Glamoč, 1959) graduated from the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade, Yugoslav and General Literature. At the same faculty, he defended his doctoral thesis Mystical Experience in the Poetry of Serbian Romanticism. Since 1995, he was professor of literature in the Philology Gymnasium in Belgrade, and from 2007 to 2019 director of this reputable school. He is now manager of the Serbian Literary Cooperative. He published books of studies and essays: Theater of the Irrational – Studies about Aleksandar Popović’s Dramas (1988), Mysticism of Serbian Romanticism (2004), Nation on the Border (2011), Njegoš’s Nationalism (2020). Books of poems: Anxieties (1988), Poems of a Serbian Soldier (1988), Suffering (2001), Washing One’s Face with Tears (2015), If We Are not Love (2017).


Keepers of the Fire in Difficult Times
We are subject to a great programmed Latinization of Serbian lands, which is today, as it was in 1915, an important element of the occupation-colonial project of unrooting, un-nationalization. Your books are, however, all in Cyrillic, and so are the books of the publishing house you are manager of?
All national cultures preserve their alphabet as one of the primary signs of tradition and identity. It is not a thing of national egotism, it is a sign of self-respect and cherishing ”the culture of memory”. An alphabet is not only a ”graphia”, a system of letters and signs for noting speech. It is much more: a spiritual space in which the highest thoughts and knowledge of nations ”reside”, a treasury of tradition, culture, poetry, faith, ethics… An alphabet, as an anthropological and civilizational phenomenon, carries within something sublime, even sacral, because it is the most important invention in the entire history of mankind. When the first alphabet was created, a way to preserve words and thoughts of people, poets, prophets, gods was discovered: not leaving spiritual treasure to uncertain human memory, but preserving it eternally from oblivion and corruption. Unfortunately, as with many other things, we have shown surprising negligence in this case. That is why it’s important to preserve the rare institutions such as the Serbian Literary Cooperative and Matica Srpska, the ”keepers of fire” even in the most difficult times.


Kosovo Is a Crucial Test for Serbia
Through language, culture, art, faith, ethics, you have perceived the ”nation on the border” in your essays, its fate and achievements. What temptations is the ”nation on the border”, our nation, facing today?
The temptations could be observed on two planes. On the first, wider and general, the Serbian nation is under the attack of the globalization wave, which cancels and ”disassembles” national singularities, turning the world into one ”company” and nations into ”workforce” and ”population”. On that plane, the Serbian nation shares the fate of all nations of the world, especially small ones, which, naturally, find it more difficult to resist such attacks. However, besides general challenges, Serbs are confronting additional pressures for ”deculturation” and self-denial, because they carry the burden of a ”disruptive factor of world history”, imposed in early XX century, which grew into direct stigmatization at the century end. Our historical and geopolitical position of a ”nation on the border” makes the battle for self-respect and self-preservation even more difficult. Defending Kosovo and Metohija – internally, in our consciousness and emotions, as well as externally in the so-called negotiation process – is the crucial test of our readiness to preserve our name, soul, identity.


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