LESSONS FROM HISTORY

Appeal to Serbian People

How you live your life matters. A lot.

Yugoslav coup d’état. Image from Wikipedia

InIn the spring of 1941, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and its capital Belgrade were occupied by German forces, despite coup d’état and protests that happened immediately after the Yugoslav government formally joined the Axis forces. Particularly brutal bombing campaign brought the Kingdom of Yugoslavia to effectively surrender and allow German forces to occupy the country, uninterrupted.

By July of 1941, the country-wide uprising against Germans was in full swing, and the Yugoslav government, in order to preserve peace and order, issues now infamous “Appeal to Serbian people”*, essentially asking the citizenry to put down the arms and “work” against the Communist Party, which was the main instigator of the uprising in many parts of the country. The idea came from Germans, who wanted to quelch the uprising, but it was written by Belgrade elites at the time.

Despite lots of pressure from Germans and the local government, the petition was only partially successful and didn’t achieve its main objective. Uprising continued, which ultimately resulted in a full-blown resistance war and throwing Germans out of the country four years later. Among signatories were a lot of prominent public figures and intellectuals of the time. However, there was a lot of resistance to it, as well, which prompted Germans to swift imprisonment of those who didn’t want to sign. Some of them died in those prisons.

Professors Miloje Milojević and Miloš Đurić were good friends. They were both working at Belgrade University: professor Milojević was teaching music and professor Đurić philosophy. Being prominent members of the society, they were both asked to sign the infamous “Appeal”. While professor Milojević agreed and signed, professor Đurić didn’t want to do so.

Prof. Milojević, fully aware of the perils that could come to his friend if he doesn’t sign, was trying to convince him to sign. Prof. Đurić, however, couldn’t go against his principles and his inner being. Time was running out. In one desperate, last-ditch attempt to save his friend, prof. Milojević asked him again. Refusing this final attempt from his friend, prof. Đurić uttered this statement that became a symbol of personal integrity in Serbian and Yugoslav society.

“It’s easy for you, you play the diple**, but I teach ethics!” — Miloš N. Đurić, former philosophy professor at Belgrade University

Prof. Đurić was arrested immediately after he refused to sign the Appeal. He was stripped of his duties at the university and he spent the next four years, interred by Germans, in the Banjica concentration camp. He survived and was fully reinstated after the end of WWII.

How we live our lives matters. What we stand for — matters. Integrity and dignity are the qualities that make us humans. In modern times, we often forget this simple truth, all-consumed by the hype of “getting ahead” and “being successful”. What is the worth of “success” if you hurt others in the process? If you’re alone on your perch, surrounded by a white picket fence? If you stand for nothing?

We are social beings, we live among other people. Intentionally or not, we are influenced by others, and so are others, by us. It’s important how you treat people, it’s important to realize that others are worth your time and efforts. Unfortunately, the current public discourse emphasizes the opposite, all for one particular goal: to succeed, to “make it”, whatever it may mean. But, if you do it at the expense of others, and lose your integrity and dignity in the process, abandon your principles, it most definitely isn’t worth it. Let’s return to being humans first: being successful should only come after that.

Where everything goes, nothing matters

* There’s no good English translation of “Appeal to Serbian People”. Here are links to the Serbian versions — 1 2.

** diple — traditional musical instrument

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Polojko

“The only person you can’t learn from is yourself” — Anonymous