Obrad Savić / THE FRIENDSHIP OF DIFFERENCES – REMEMBERING IVO BANAC

After 20 years of teaching History of Social Theory at the University of Belgrade, Obrad Savić was first suspended and then, in May 2000, he was fired for political dissident engagement. Obrad Savić has taught at many universities in former Yugoslavia as well as in the United States and Western Europe. After 2005 he has work at University of Leeds, UK, and American University at Prishtina, Kosovo. Meanwhile, he has edited and published several books: Philosophical Reading of Freud; European Discourse of War; Politics of Human Rights; The Balkans as a Metaphor, etc.

THE FRIENDSHIP OF DIFFERENCES – REMEMBERING IVO BANAC

By Obrad Savić

Ivo Banac is no longer with us; I wish to speak in his honor with the utmost respect. I first met Professor Banac, whose academic life was worthy of every admiration, twenty years ago, during my stay at the New School for Social Research. From the beginning of our ‘American get-together,’ Ivo Banac advocated for a refined friendship devoid of any inappropriate intimacy. We both worked to build a measured, unobtrusive relationship, which hadn’t arisen from some great distance – but was, on the contrary, the product of our mutual fear of the kind of aggressive, oversized closeness that was always so foreign to both of us. The driving force of our depoliticized friendship originated from the fact that our relationship from the beginning rose above that pernicious closeness based on familial, ethnic, national, fraternal and androcentric kinship. The spirit and nature of our sovereign friendship arose directly from our irreconcilable differences and dissimilarity.

Over and against any form of secular pride (amour propre), the difference in our respective attitudes toward religion – or more precisely, toward the Christian faith and Catholicism – has permanently determined the protective spirit of our friendship. Despite my own impiety and atheism, I understood the spirit of refined Catholicism that Ivo Banac persistently fostered, following in the footsteps of Hans Küng and Henri de Lubac. According to Banac, what is universal in the Church (“At the foundation of the Gospel is a constant view of the unity of the human community”) belongs to the Catholic denomination of Christianity. It is well known that the adjective catholikos was used by ancient Greek philosophers to denote the value of universals.

In his book The Croats and the Church (2013), published in the midst of secular modernity, Ivo Banac offers a short history of Croatian Catholicism. The intertwined relationship between the Church, the nation, and modernity is magically resolved in the book’s epigraph: “He who has no Church for his mother cannot have God for his father.” If I understand this correctly, the sacrament of spiritual healing works through a real and mystical union with Christ’s church: since the forgiveness and reconciliation of sinners is first and foremost a reconciliation with the church itself, it would seem that the sacraments constitute the essence of the Catholic Church. No Catholic believer doubts the dogma—namely, that God’s forgiveness cannot be achieved unless a communion of believers with the Church is established  the “sacrament of the unity of the Church” or sacramentum unitatis ecclesiasticae. Although I never discussed with Banac the conciliatory power of the Eucharist in the Church of Christ (Christian Theophagy), it seems to me that from time to time throughout my life I have relied on the protective vigilance that could at least temporarily delay “Christ’s blood’s nullifying of our political existence” (See Gil Anidjar, Blood: Critique of Christianity, 2014). During one of the gatherings of the Bosnia Forum in Mostar, I introduced Gil Anidjar to Ivo Banac. I remember them starting an interesting discussion in the hotel garden about Christian “voices of blood”, and ending the conversation with   stimulation comments on Derrida’s ominous remark that “blood would make all the difference.”

It is especially important to emphasize that friendship with Ivo Banac was marked from the very beginning by the egalitarian practice of solidarity, which draws its origins from the Judeo-Christian tradition. In contradistinction to familial fraternity, which had diverged Christianity from fraternity based in a blood relation, to the expanded fraternity of all Christians. Ivo Banac and I persistently built a form of civic solidarity – the very core and foundation of our republican friendship. My friendship with Ivo Banac was indeed reciprocally reflected in the solidarity that once led Montaigne to claim that his friendship with la Boetie “had no other model [idee] than itself” and therefore “can only refer to itself,” in other words—it can only be its own measure. What is so fascinating about the gifts of solidarity with a good and virtuous friend is the affirmation of one’s own uniqueness through the uniqueness of another. That is why our civic friendship was from the outset spontaneously emancipated from the biased rule of family ties and blood kinship. Indeed, I do not need to invent here some new, sublime way of celebrating Ivo Banac’s precious solidarity, who selflessly gave me numerous “gifts” worthy of lasting memory.

Let me describe one of the “gifts” that my friend Ivo Banac respectfully gave me. I will not be mistaken if I state that the certainty of what Aristotle calls the first friendship (e prote philia) happened during our early American days, when Ivo Banac introduced and wholeheartedly recommended me to his academic colleague from Yale University, the historian Professor Peter Gay. The truth of friendship consists, I believe, in unconditional trust—however, trust takes time because it has to be tested. But as I said, our friendship was in its early days and hadn’t had a chance to be tested yet. (To go back to Aristotle’s dictum: “Perhaps it is not well to seek as many friends as possible but as many as are sufficient for living together,” because we have no time to put too many of them to the test of time.) The proof of true friendship was precisely in the fact that Ivo Banac, even though he didn’t know me well at that time, introduced me generously to his nearest friend professor Gay. At that time, Peter Gay was Director of the New York Public Library, and Banac’s introduction yielded many frequent cordial meetings. At the first meeting, I informed Professor Gay that together with my Belgrade friend, psychologist Ljubo Stojić, I had translated his 1988 book Freud: A Life for Our Time. (Unfortunately, Gay’s book has not yet been published in Serbian, because the local publishing house Nolit was terminated during the right-wing revolution in Serbia.) I had conducted an interview with Professor Gay about the translation of his work and I hoped to see that translation eventually published, despite the time that had elapsed. This successful episode of my collaboration with Peter Gay had, in a sense, strengthened and fortified my civic friendship with Ivo Banac – the kind of friendship that relies on academic solidarity which itself implies equality of virtues among friends, equality in what turns them towards each other.

Although, as I have mentioned, my friendship with Ivo Banac was mostly crafted in the mold of civic solidarity, I cannot deny that the destructive power of pre-political friendship, which we had both inherited, greatly influenced the strength (and weight) of our relationship. In order to think of friendship with an open heart, the early friendship must be somehow transformed for the future: “For to love friendship,” Derrida writes, “it is not enough to know how to bear the other in mourning; one must love the future” (Jacques Derrida, Politics of Friendship, 2005).

What had permanently – that is to say, in a testamentary manner – determined our de-politicized friendship for the future was, paradoxically, daily politics: namely, the brave political rebellion of Ivo Banac, and his remarkable defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the devastating attacks of Croatia and Serbia. Indeed, it was during the many years of our meetings in Mostar, organized by the prestigious non-governmental organization Forum Bosnia, that I was able to comprehend, from within, Ivo’s heroic struggle for the integrity and wholeness of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is precisely in this place, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that destructive madness lurks, the political nightmare that arose under the burden of the destructive energy of ethnic hostilities.

Therefore, what are we doing here – we who are civic friends, we who invite you to join us and share with us, despite everything, joy rather than omnipresent suffering and sorrow. Just before his death, when the whole world withdrew into isolation due to Coronavirus, Ivo Banac and I exchanged a few self-ironic remarks about how our civic friendship had failed, and that we were now, in fact, innocent friends of loneliness, members of a desert community seeking to share what is unshareable – loneliness itself. I wonder in the end, what is the friendship of the lonesome – a friendship without closeness, without presence, and hence without togetherness and solidarity? Is it possible that the vengeful virus of nature has suddenly turned us into conspirators of aloneness? The madness of solitary silence is already here, like an intrusive guest who arrives before its host – the whirlpool of solitary silence signifies a definitive break with love, even if it is love for a close one (a friend) or love for oneself.

Finally, for the love of friendship, a loyal friendship for the future, I quote from a moving letter I received in the midst of this pandemic panic from my friend Ivo Banac at 9.13am on Monday, March 23, 2020:

“Dear Buddy,

Thank you very much for your friendly message. We are all well. Andrea and I are trying to keep safe from this plague in Dubrovnik. Nature certainly defends itself from everything that the human race has imposed on it, but it still embraces and enchants us. Figs are sprouting, wisteria is blooming, medlars are ripening in this Garden of Eden. Does it get any better than that?

My warm greetings and love, Ivo”

Who could be more convincing than dear Banac to gently free us from the fear of vengeful loneliness in the presence of death?

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The text was solicited by the International Forum Bosnia to be included in the commemorative issue on Ivo Banac. It was kindly sent to “The Bridge” by the author.