Litmus test for humanity
By: Amer Tikveša
Films you now have the opportunity to see here were filmed as part of the Be the change - do something! project. They tell the story about Duško Kondor Civil Courage Award winners and Duško Kondor Recognition of Civil Courage Award. The movies are about the people who represented just that – a change, and for some of them this is relevant even now. About the people who are not waiting for someone else to act so that they may join those, but who themselves did not expect anyone to join them, but rather acted on their own conscience, in accordance with general human moral principles. The context for their actions, at least those most dangerous, was in most cases the wars in the former Yugoslavia (1992 – 1995) or reality shaped by these wars. They fought the evil that caused and fueled those wars, evil which the war has created and left behind. It is important to stress that this evil does not represent an irrational or metaphysical category, but that it is rather quite human in the sense that human beings harmed other human beings and that it was carefully planned in detail in the minds of people who acted rationally and meticulously with clearly set objectives, some of which, if not most of them, were, unfortunately, achieved. On the other hand, we should not jump to conclusion that Duško Kondor Award laureates perpetrated inherently “good" deeds, which they undoubtedly did, but, here, we should focus on something else.
When we say "good" or "evil," we usually think of something different from the commonplace and the acts we discuss here are, in the first place, "normal" acts or acts performed in accordance with "common sense". If we define common sense as a set of values, propositions and procedures which people consider sound, then we can truly say that Duško Kondor Award laureates did not do anything unusual, nothing outstanding judged by its place on the moral scale. For example, to help the needy is in line with common sense, and teach of them did it n their own way, among other things. Why are they still considered somehow special or outstanding, which they are, since they received this award and no prize is not awarded for mediocrity?
The concept of common sense which guided them is universal. This is the concept which exists since the dawn of time (since we can trace history through written records) in all places, from God's Commandments, such as, say, "Thou shalt not kill" to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which, in Article 1 states: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." This concept of common sense has been rejected at one stage in history, in the communities Duško Kondor Award laureates live or have lived. Specifically, each common sense postulate was supplemented with a "but" or an "except". It became "Thou shalt not kill! - Except Serb/Albanian/ Croatian/Bosniak "- depending on the area where someone was perceived as an enemy. This, of course, included not just killing, but rape, looting, arson, deportation, blackmail... It created a new system of beliefs and practices with ethnic, particularistic or fascist overtones, a new "common sense" almost universally accepted within each community. It was a perverted common sense and practice which in accordance with its morals occupies the lowest points on the moral scale. Many people accepted these new rules as their common sense, their minds were molded in accordance with the new values by ideological state apparatuses such as the media, educational institutions, religious communities, show business... some of them remained the same as before the imposition of the new value system but they adapted and remained silent out of fear, and only a small number of people exposed injustice in public and helped those in need. Those are, of course, Duško Kondor Award laureates. Their fight was extremely risky, often involving their own lives and the lives of their family members.
This is the key issue which requires an answer to the question whether it is normal and moral to imperil one’s life or lives of their families at the expense of someone who has been written off by the system or based on the principles of justice and fairness. The answer is that is both moral and normal, for the simple reason that consent to evil, even if it means just keeping silent about it or ignoring it, is equally dangerous, perhaps even more dangerous than putting one in peril through opposition to this evil. Naturally, in order to accept this, we need to believe that life is not merely a biological category and the living is not the same as surviving while satisfying primary needs and impulses. We must believe that their own lives, if we want to live them meaningfully, must involve the values of humanity, and some of them are: mutual pervasion of welfare of individuals and society, respect for the dignity of every human being, allowing the development of the dignity and freedom of every individual in the society, as this is what is prescribed by the universally conceived common sense. Without it, life is pointless and, for some, to live such life is worse than being dead.
Hence we recognize the excellence and uniqueness of these people. In fact, all the acts performed by Duško Kondor Award laureates, meaning those for which they received the award, constitute a single good deed when considered as a whole, and that is the defense of universal principles and modes of human existence. That is their main value. Thanks to these people, humanity and faith in it have survived in our region. Duško Kondor Award as well as films made or to be made about its winners also represent a most valuable effort. The award and the films are fighting the same battle as the laureates, that is, protagonists of these films.
Ideologies of evil have not been defeated by the end of war or even today. They still largely create our reality. They prescribe what should be remembered and what should be forgotten, what is valuable and what is not. The latter involves the men we discuss here. Awards and movies serve to save them from oblivion and put them in the spotlight, direct our identification towards them, so that at all times we may know how close or far away from the principles of humanity or common sense we are removed. They simply remind us of what we purport to be and make us face our own hypocrisy. Specifically, each one of us likes to profess his or her humanity, many even believe in it, and those should watch some of these films and try to compare themselves with their protagonists.
Truly, the largest number of winners were given award for their bravery in the war, but that should not mislead us into thinking that such an instance of civil courage is possible or most needed only in times of war. The purpose of this award is, among other things, to motivate people to act and fight in times of peace as well, and to find inspiration in those who were able to do so during the war, when it was incomparably more dangerous and difficult. It is also important to note that display of civic courage does not necessarily putting one in peril, especially endangering one’s life. It may manifest itself in various ways. For example, a wealthy businessman may act in the interest of public health, better living conditions for the animals and public hygiene, and donate money for the establishment of an animal sanctuary.
Therefore, the examples given here are the most drastic ones, dealing with those who are able to risk what they cherish most – their lives. This is the ultimate stage of civil courage which is confirmed by the name of the award - Duško Kondor. Thus, the award is named after the man who paid for his civil courage with his life, as he was assassinated for political reasons in 2007, in times of peace. The award laureates are therefore those for who Duško Kondor paved their way, not in the sense that it has to end in death, but in terms of unwavering courage even at the cost of death, which, fortunately, rarely happens to the brave. The majority of the laureates have survived in the times when their civil courage was considered something of a liability.