The passing of Patriarch Pavle, for whom all the respect paid to his memory was and is well deserved, allowed for some rather questionable decisions on the side of the government and media in Serbia.
The government suggested people stay home from work and asked media to restrict itself to "appropriate" content during the declared official days of mourning. This, by itself, seems reasonable. Some channels on television did not transmit at all and replaced their programs with a blackened screen saying that it was because of the mourning period. Some announced changes in the programming schedule for the same reason.
Others however, especially those controlled by the SBB Cable Monopolists, seem to have hired a crew of coin-flippers to make their decisions on Appropriateness. Moreover, instead of warning the public, they just took the censored channels off the air, leading many of us to fiddle for some time with the television's controls until we cottoned on. Personally, I blamed my five-year old son for playing with the remote control when I could not find the channels.
I have since apologized.
I looked for patterns in the choices. Why Fox Life, for example, and not Fox Crime? Is it because situation comedies are Bad and programs sympathizing with serial killers and the mafia are Good? Why Croatian television and not Bosnian? Is it because many Croats are Catholics and might not choose to turn off the TV themselves - so SBB does it for them?
In all, SBB cancelled ten channels - music channels VH1, MTV, and Melos; regional channels HRT1 and 2 and OBN; and some others, including Fox Life, Atlas, DM Sat, and Fashion TV. Who was making these decisions?
It occurs to me that true mourning is spontaneous. The Republic of Serbia "suggested" that companies give their employees a paid day off on Thursday, the day of the Patriarch's funeral. It was stipulated that the day be "paid." If anyone had come to me to ask for the day off out of respect for the mourning period, I am quite sure we would have given it. Nor would we have docked them the day's pay for doing it. But I am fairly certain of the fact that this would be the company's decision. The state has no business suggesting it to us. Many will mistake a suggestion for an instruction.
The government, as a major employer in Serbia, gave its people a free day - and this is even less appropriate than a private company. After all, the government is put in place (theoretically) by the voters of Serbia, not all of whom are Serbian Orthodox. It feels divisive, instantly making camps of Us and Them. "Us" comprise a clear majority in this fairly homogenous state - in 2002, it was estimated by the Statistics Bureau that some 84% of the population was Serbian Orthodox. But "Them," in which I also find myself along with Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims, Protestants, and every other non-Orthodox resident, still live here and represent about half a million people. Not counting Kosovo because that would bump it up to around 2.5 million people.
Us and Them.
It does not mean we should not join the mourning, but no one really has a choice in it either. Just like we did not have the choice to switch off the TV if we wanted to observe it. Being allowed the freedom to turn it off gives people the chance to show genuine respect, but deciding for people is another story altogether. In the meantime, I have been told that porn and violence were readily available on TV during the mourning period anyway. The coin-flipping strategy seems to have left a few gaps.
Heads I win, Tails you lose.