Monday, 12 November 2012, 14:00, Somewhere between the Hungarian/Serbian border and Belgrade
I recall this from my last trip south: endless stretches of flat cropland, punctuated by forlorn little Serbian (Hungarian?) villages. The train crawls at a pace that is unimaginably slow for a route between two European capitols. And the way the train rocks back and forth, you know it would come off the tracks if it went any faster.
The border between Hungary and Serbia is still a real border. Cops with nine-millimeter automatics bursting into your train compartment demanding papers, scrutinizing your passport, and giving you the hairy eyeball as they (reluctantly) stamp a visa on its pages. I’ve gotten too used to easy-going inter-EU borders.
And I can’t help meditating on why this part of the world hasn’t caught up to it’s immediate neighbors: the foolish wars of ethnic domination it unleashed in the 1990s. Thirteen years after the last shot was fired in the last of those wars (Kosovo), they’re still paying for it. I look at this country (just like I look at post-war Germany) as a cautionary tale about the destructive power of pride, hate, jealousy and greed.
Just as Hungary was often referred to as the happiest barracks in the Soviet-bloc camp, Yugoslavia was regarded as the lucky socialist country that evaded Soviet hegemony. They were seen as “rich” among East European countries.
Well, not anymore. Not only did their wars make them miss the general infrastructural retooling (road system, data networks, utilities, railroads, banking system, services sector) the rest of the countries behind the former “iron curtain” got, they wasted all the treasure they’d accumulated on weapons and mobilization. And, of course, there’s the lingering illness you inflict on your nation when you make your youth engage in barbarous acts of mass violence. The insult upon injury was when NATO bombed their infrastucture until they finally withdrew and let peacekeepers occupy Kosovo.
Ever since then, their integration into the new Europe has been slow and carefully scrutinized.
But some things never change. I come here as part of an international network of corporate services firms. So I can fairly well judge how affluent a country is by how well off our network’s firm is in that country. When I visit Serbia, they haggle over every cent of my expense account. And for economy’sake, the firms in former Yugoslavian states pool their training resources, so they often send their personnel to Belgrade for workshops (such as mine). Last year I was out having a drink in the evening with those members of the course who were from other former Yugoslavian countries. They never missed a chance to make nasty jokes about the Serbs. This stuff runs deep.
Every time I’m confronted with ultranationalism in Central Europe, I’m reminded of what Joseph Weed wrote on the topic. A one-time Grand Counilor in AMORC, Weed was one of the leading Western mystics of the 20th century, whose out-of-print books I recommend highly for anyone looking for no-nonsense techniques to develop psychic faculties. (OK. You should be warned that the style and presentation is very mid-twentieth century. But if you can see beyond the surface and the faults of the times, there is some pure gold to be found in there.)
Weed’s work occasionally refers to the doctrine of “The Hierarchy”. The Hierarchy consists of ascended masters; souls now free of the wheel of karma, but still dedicated to serving mankind from the other side of the veil. (I think I might have just lost all the “chaos” people in my audience, if any, by indulging in such Blavatsky-esque terminology). The Hierarchy, being disembodied, does it’s work by broadcasting chosen thoughts to mankind in an effort to bring about desired trends in civilization. According to Weed, one such “project” to The Hierarchy was the evolution from absolute monarchy to the nation-state. He suggests that the thought framework on which the masses hung their sentiments of national pride and loyalty to country (as opposed to being allied to, or subject to a king), was all planted in the collective unconscious by The Hierarchy.
But now (he wrote some time in the 60s) this has become an out-dated idea, and those who continue to adhere to it are holding civilization back.
Every time I encounter some pin-headed nationalist, who thinks his insistence on wearing a national costume, desire to ban all popular music in favor of traditional folk music, spouting off about how his ethnic group descends from the Tibetans/Egyptians/Aryans/Atlanteans/You-Name-itians, insistence that nobody ever buy ANYTHING from outside the borders of their country, and last, but not least, that his ethnic group are the be-all and end-all of the human race and God has designated them sole heirs (despite whatever hell-hole they are currently living in), well… I can really see Weed’s point. I mean: do they really think they can hold back the flood tide of modernity? Do they? It’s rough living in the 21st century. We’re all overwhelmed by the pace of change. Indeed, much of the change seems to always benefit faceless multinational corporations. But, I swear, joining a tribal cult with members who like wearing military garb and cultivating cruel anti-semitic humor is not the solution by a long shot.
“But you don’t understand,” some people tell me, “this was much more complicated than you think.” My understanding gets a little short when it comes to genocide. Wholesale slaughter tends to make me unconcerned about “who was right.”
All of this tends to make me contemplate my own ambiguous relationship to nationality (which starts with the fact that my mother was a foreigner). I find it absurd that I carry a US passport. I haven’t lived there in 20 years. I haven’t even BEEN there in twelve. Why does the US government need to vouch for me? Why do I owe any allegiance to it?
Besides that: what is the USA anyway? The longer I’m away from it, the more I believe it’s not a country at all. It’s an idea. That idea spilled over its borders long ago, around the end of the second world war. I’m an American because of the things I believe, not because of where I come from. Not because of the fancy high-tech high-security document the State Department gives me to identify myself when I travel. As far as citizenship is concerned, I feel like a citizen of international Anglo culture. That’s the world of ideas and aesthetic contexts I live in. I believe in freedom and human dignity. Does the USA have a corner on that?
These are the kinds of things I think of when I come to this country. A country that has been overrun by a number of other nations in its time: the Turks, the Bulgarians, the Hungarians, the Germans. A country that is having a hard time accepting that their old idea of themselves is dying fast. Europe is coming. And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.
I’m not sure where The Hierarchy is leading us now, but it’s definitely far beyond the destructive nationalism the “dead-enders”* are holding onto.
*Yes, I know the bad taste Bush-administration officials used this term in. It’s just my little joke.