Dinner with the folks

Although for most countries the holiday season is over, here in Serbia it has just begun. Because of the two-week difference between the official and the church calendars, Christmas is in January and we get to have two New Year’s Eves, one regular and one on the 13th. But one of many examples of the confusion that rules here in this country is the fact that nobody really knows why that is. Everybody calls this late New Year ‘Serbian’, and thinks, mostly thanks to a well-known government run media company whose name I mentioned so many times in the past that
I simply won’t waste any breath, ink, bytes or whatever on doing it again (okay, it’s RTS), that this ‘Serbian’ New Year is a gift from God to Serbs because they are a heavenly race.

Now, that maybe sounds just a bit too far fetched, but back in the early Nineties, when all this mess with Sloba (ie ‘Slobodan Milosevic’) began, more than 80% of people over 18 in Serbia believed that theory, and there are election results to prove it. I believed, however, that most of the people who voted for him, and most of those are the elderly, have either changed their minds or died of cold. But, as the past tense in the previous sentence suggests, I was wrong.

You see, at the start of the holiday season I had dinner with all of my extended family – aunts, uncles, and grandparents – the lot. Of course, everybody has those, so I guess I don’t have to point out all the joys of a family reunion. At one point, the conversation turned to politics… and it got scary… or should I say ‘bloody frightening’. The situation at the table represented perfectly the Serbia’s electorate in the early Nineties I already mentioned. And there were 15 of us there, so it was 12 against 3. And the fact that those 12 were much worse off in life than me and my folks made it look even more like an episode from The Twilight Zone.

I mean, there was my aunt, a housewife who even with the government scholarship has barely enough money to put her daughter through college, and has a son in the army that, was he only a year older, could have got himself killed in Kosovo, talking about how we actually didn’t loose Kosovo, and how the VJ (that’s the Yugoslav army) will come back there in a year, according to the UN resolution 1244. She also didn’t fail to mention the protests in Seattle against the US government and the
WTO, like it had anything to do with the situation here. And she doesn’t even know where Seattle is, let alone what the United Nations represent or what that number 1244 means. All the arguments she got were from RTS, and she kept repeating them like a parrot, not even understanding what the things she’s saying mean.

It would all be fine if RTS only affected middle-aged housewives who don’t have anything else to do in their dreary little lives than watch the news bulletins all day. But it’s not only them. Her daughter, the one in college, said that she’d rather starve to death than live a life of, I quote, “going to McDonald’s and watching TV all day”. Umm… what’s wrong with that? And it didn’t even make a lot of sense until I realized that an average American or western European (and that’s you), is represented on RTS like a person whose only requirement in life is to have enough Big Macs to eat and CNN to watch.

But I shouldn’t put all the blame on RTS. It’s also the Balkan mentality that rules here. A cousin of mine, a 20-something manual labourer who lives in Switzerland and has to work 12 hours a day to support his mother and sister back here, said during the dinner that the only mistake Sloba made was to give in to international demands once it looked like the bombing campaign wasn’t working and a ground war looked imminent. I won’t even try to understand the pattern his mind followed to come to a conclusion like that, but I had hoped until then that at least he, living outside the RTS’ reach, wouldn’t fall for the propaganda.

And although at times like that I wish I were adopted, having my family’s genes has a few advantages – like an unnatural resistance to flu. And it’s a flu epidemic in here, with more than 15% of the population infected, and a high probability that 10 more percent will join them.

And who’s to blame, according to RTS? Why, the Americans for not getting the vaccine formula right, of course. The poorly paid medical staff and the hospitals last renovated back when Roosevelt was president of the US (the first Roosevelt), aren’t even mentioned.

But it’s not only bad news this week. On January 10th, the opposition finally made a deal on a common strategy, demanding elections in April, and calling for massive street protests in March if the government doesn’t respond. The only thing government can do against them is to call them traitors on RTS, but the public grew tired of that long, long ago. It looks now like the elections will definitely be in April, and I can only hope that somehow I’ll be able to persuade my dear relatives not to go to the polls.