недеља, 31. март 2013.


Г. К. Честертон

The Thing Called a Nation.
The Spiritual Issue of the War. 

By G. K. Chesterton

Одломак из књиге "The Lay of Kossovo: Serbia's Past and Present" (Библиотека "Запис", 2013)

Five hundred years ago our Allies the Serbians went down in the great Battle of Kossovo, which was the end of their triumph and the beginning of their glory. For if the Serbian Empire was mortally wounded, the Serbian nation had a chance to prove itself immortal; since it is only in death that we can discover immortality. So awfully alive is that Christian thing called a nation that its very death is a living death. It is a living death which lasts a hundred times longer than any life of man; and of what it meant to the Serbians I know of no possible literary expression. The nearest words for it are found, I believe, in a Serbian proverb, which I fancy I have heard, and which I am sure is too good for me to have imagined: “God never made a heaven until He saw the sorrows of the Serbs.”

* * *

The day of the great Turkish victory is everywhere celebrated by Serbians – except in Serbia. To ask why it cannot be kept in Serbia is to ask the central question about the greatest quarrel that has ever convulsed this planet. Of its momentousness in the matter of Serbia as a nation I will say something in a moment. But if we wished to state the spiritual issue of the whole war in its simplest and strongest terms I do not think we could find a better definition than this one. We are fighting to preserve that particular spirit which remembers a defeat rather than a victory. We are fighting to make Success a failure. The Germans keep the Day of Sedan, that is the Day of Success; and it is a fact, to which any honest observer will attest, that they are conspicuous among other nations recalling other victories, by the fact that their whole phraseology and philosophy treats it as a part of an inevitable success, of an interminable Sedan. The Prussians do not remember and celebrate the Day of Jena. That is why it is vitally necessary, even for their own sakes, to give them a bigger Jena, which they will be obliged to remember. As it is, the average Prussian probably realizes nothing about Jena except that Professor Haeckel lives there; which may indeed be reasonably regarded as a national judgment or visitation in itself; but in which the divine irony expresses itself in too subtle a manner to be easily apprehended by the Prussian mind. We must be content to tell the Prussian, well knowing that he will not understand us, that we are fighting to give him a Kossovo Day to make a man of him, that he may some day be as civilized as a Serbian peasant.
* * *
Kossovo of the Serbians towers in history as the most tragic and memorable of such instances of memory. But it is by no means the only instance indicating that the Allies stand for this paradox of the undefeated defeat. When I first went to Paris as a mere boy I think the thing that most struck my eye and stuck in my memory was that sculptured circle of the great cities of France, in which the only statue still girt with new garlands and draperies is the lost city of Strasburg. It seemed to be a challenge to the changes of time more momentous and impressive even than the cannon column of Napoleon or the towers of Notre Dame. The whole flood of our thoughts which were then full of a German fatalism ran clean contrary to that challenge; so much so that I remember a phrase in some standard English work expressing not only wonder but a sort of amusement at the thing, as if it were an impish variety of the well-known French vanity. “Other nations celebrate their victories,” wrote this simple and laborious man. “Who but the French would celebrate even their defeats?” Even then, I am glad to say, I had glimpses of a somewhat manlier moral philosophy, and I never saw a sight in my life that impelled me so spontaneously to say, In hoc signo vinces. But the very phrase I am using is enough to remind me that the idea is older and even more historic than the just quarrel of France. In the light of that ancient idea, most assuredly, Serbia must be called the eldest brother of the Alliance. It was under the sign by which Constantine conquered that Lazar fell in a failure that has been as fruitful as a martyrdom. And that sign, which Constantine saw in heaven above his eagles, should be enough in itself to convey that mystery of Christendom which must always be a menace to its enemies, and above all to the Prussian, its last and its most insolent enemy. There is but one religion which can only decorate even its triumphs with an emblem of defeat. There is only one army which carries the image of its own captain, not enthroned or riding, but captured and impaled.

* * *

The sort of cosmopolitan expert who tests everything by the philosophy of a courier, a man to whose globetrotting cynicism we have paid far more attention than his shallow experiences deserve, will often tell us that he can see little difference between Turk and Christian in the wilds of South Eastern Europe; he thinks they are much of a muchness, because they may both wear knives or what is worse, indulge in religious observances. This is the true type of man who would have been a blind and barren spectator of any one of the great and crucial disputes of history. He would have regarded Cicero and Julius Caesar as two Roman senators in togas having a tiff: he would have been fully satisfied with the fact that Foulon and Robespierre both powdered their hair, when he had got over the real interesting discovery that they both spoke French. The philosophy of facts always escapes him; and we cannot select or even see facts except by a philosophy. It is in the very fundamentals of human philosophy that the Eastern Christians, headed by the heroic and unhappy Serbs, differ from that Asiatic Empire which has ruled or rather robbed them. It is an ultimate question which divides this nation which is no longer an Empire from that Empire which has never been a nation.

* * *

And the chief fruit of this philosophy is the national idea itself, the sacramental sense of boundary, the basis in an almost religious sense of agriculture, the idea of having a home upon this earth, which the Arab armies out of the deserts can hardly even be said to have violated, having never even begun to understand. If we in the West have enjoyed these things more pacifically than the Serbians it would be on the last level of vileness for us to reproach them with the difference. For in the plain light of history, it is because they have been warlike that we have found it possible to be peaceful. If they are fierce it is because no courage short of sheer fanaticism could have kept the frontiers of Christendom against such locust-clouds of foes, while we were electing our first Parliaments and building our first cathedrals. While all we call the world was being made they were the wall of the world. If they had the faults of such fighting we at least might in decency regard them not as sins, but scars. If, as the courier informs us, they carry knives, it is because they know, as we shall probably never know, what we really mean when we talk of war to the knife. If they have wildly struck down tyrants who were also traitors, it is because for them a phrase like “selling the pass” is not a petty political metaphor, but has often referred to a real pass, over real mountains, letting loose ruin upon real villages hi a real valley.
And, indeed, it is this vivid and sensitive visualization of the traitor which makes the main sentiment of Serbia in the war. The Serbs have a feeling about the part played by Austria which we in the West can but imperfectly understand. That Austria was wholly and flatly in the wrong in the quarrel that created this war is admitted by everyone in his five wits. It may even be said that it was admitted by Austria, since she refused arbitration or even any sort of discussion. It is admitted by many of the Germans, who are, indeed, more and more disposed to prove their own impeccable virtue at the expense of the Austrians, as well as of all the rest of mankind. But the Serbian has an issue with the Austrian which is the more sinister for being spiritual. For the Serb the Austrian is a Christian – like Judas Iscariot. He is a Christian who has stabbed him in the back while he was still fighting with his face to the infidel. And his just anger is full of the fury of five centuries, and dark with the trappings of that day of mourning when the blood of his saints and heroes was given on the field of blackbirds in vain.

(“The Daily News” on Kossovo Day, 1916.)

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