Déjà vu

Most of the time I love being right. I said a week ago that the reports of Arkan’s shooters being captured are probably false – it turned out they were. Of course, nobody here admits it, and the police are still saying they’ve got the killers, but there is, as always, a gaping hole in the police’s story.

The fact that they have yet to come up with a reasonable motive aside, two of the five arrested were police officers, one suspended and one on a vacation, and the one that was suspended got himself wounded during the assassination. Now, if the shooters were such professionals as the police portray them to be, would they be so stupid as to send their wounded associate to a public hospital for treatment instead of simply getting rid of him, a potential witness? Of course, this was just a rhetorical question – everybody here knows or suspects, and I do mean everybody – from simple farmers to rich businessmen, that this is yet another in a series of government-ordered killings.

There are, however, times when I hate when something I predicted actually happens. In November last year, I wrote that the then sudden surge in electricity and gas supplies was a part of the government’s plan to stay in power for another year or so by keeping the people happy and delaying the elections. I also said that their plan would fail, simply because the Russians and the Czechs aren’t willing to send free gas and electricity forever. And to tell you the truth, I kind of hopped I would be proved wrong.

But their plan did fail. Spectacularly. A sudden dive of temperatures, which now range between –20 and –5, had everyone crank their heaters up to the max. And the fact that the heaters require either gas or electricity to produce heat in turn caused a shortage of both. So right now, more than half of Serbia is without gas, and the whole of it has power cuts – ranging from 6 to 16 hours a day in some areas.

Writing this I realized that 6 hours a day without electricity, or in my case 9, doesn’t look so bad on paper. But I only had to remember how I spent three hours of the previous night – by the flickering light of a petroleum lamp, listening to the constant yapping of my mother about how it’s all Sloba’s fault – to realize that Dante had Serbia without electricity in mind when he created his “Hell”. Of course, Dante couldn’t have known what electricity is, but even so, “Hell” isn’t a strong enough word to describe the year 2000 in Serbia.

But that’s an exaggeration. What can I say? I’m a spoilt brat who can’t imagine his life without a computer, a TV or even such luxuries as electric light and running water. I know there are children in Ethiopia starving to death, people in Sierra Leone killing each other and many more who weren’t so fortunate not to be born in the so-called Third world, but
I don’t have to go to Africa to see people whose lives are ruined. I can just visit my mother at her workplace.

You see, she used to work in a hotel. “Used to” doesn’t mean she quit or got fired, and she didn’t even change her office, but what used to be a hotel, technically still is one, became a refugee centre a few months ago. However, these Kosovo refugees didn’t have the luck of those from Croatia to have their houses built and bills paid for them by the government. In fact, the government refuses to even call them refugees – to them, they are just “people who left Kosovo”, “the internally displaced”. And although they have free bed ’n’ breakfast, dinner even, the personal possessions they brought with them just about equal those of people from Ethiopia – a few pieces of clothing and not much more.

And they are exactly the people who are now targeted by the opposition, which can now be called “new and improved”, to vote against the ruling coalition in the upcoming elections. The problem is, nobody really knows what he or she will vote for in those elections. While two parts of the government are deciding on whether they will be both local and federal or just local, the opposition is demanding elections on all levels – local, regional, and federal. But whatever these elections turn out to be about, it’s certain that the government faces defeat, if only because they can’t manipulate the votes from Kosovo any more. And there was a whole lot of manipulating going on in the past – according to the ’91 election results, 104 per cent of people in Kosovo voted for Slobodan Milosevic to be the new president of Serbia. No comment.

Somehow, the winter of 2000 in Serbia seems to be a carbon copy of the summer of ’94. Power cuts, refugees on your doorsteps, and just a hint of a chance for change in the air. A few days ago, a power cut interrupted an episode of “Pinky and the Brain”. The last thing Brain said: “To use the words of the immortal Yogi Beara, it’s deja vu all over again.”