“The best way to learn the truth,” a media analyst here once said, “is to take the facts that the RTS (Radio Television of Serbia) gives you and invert them completely.” The above statement would be true in 99 per cent of the cases. In one case, however, the government controlled truth benders got it right. While all of the world media couldn’t stop talking about the millennium, the Y2K bug and the “beginning of the Age of Aquarius” (whatever that meant), on New Year’s Eve the RTS simply wished it’s viewers a happy New Year, had a brief statement on how the Y2K bug was dealt with in Serbia, showed the government officials tapping each other’s shoulder for doing such a great job in the year behind us and proclaimed the next year as the “dawning of the Age of Serbia” (and you though the “Aquarius Age” theory was ludicrous). Now 90 per cent of people in Serbia know it’s not the new millennium yet, compared to around 20 per cent elsewhere.
But, as always, the government had an ulterior motive for telling the truth. You see, if it was the new millennium, the state would have to spend money for the free street celebrations, fireworks, free entertainment, and above all, would have to admit that we are entering the 21st century with no infrastructure, money, industry, electricity or gas, not to mention the lack of stability, democracy, freedom and sovereignty. This way, they got off with putting some street decor left from the last year’s celebrations and organising a cheap concert in the town square, saying the lavish celebrations will be in a year’s time, when the new millennium finally comes.
And when postponing the millennium celebrations and quieting down the holiday spirit are concerned, they certainly had a lot of help from the public. Three millennium domes wouldn’t bring this lot out of depression, and needless to say, there aren’t enough funds to build one tenth of a dome, let alone three whole ones. Bad weather, dull looking streets and lack of any real reason for cheerfulness have caused everyone to forget it’s the holiday season, and a Prozac replacement was the biggest selling drug in Serbia for the tenth consecutive month. There would have been a massive increase in tourism money if only had somebody at the board of tourism remembered to start a “Fed up with the millennium hype? Come to Serbia!” marketing campaign.
But there was at least some partying going on. Basically, two types of people existed here this New Year’s Eve, and with that, two types of New Year parties – those who had money, and by that I mean a lot of it, and those who didn’t, or at least had very little. Those with the money had some wild parties and the best live music money can buy; then again, they have wild parties and great musicians playing for them almost every night, and that sort of beats the idea of a “special” New Year party.
Those without the funds just dusted off their old plastic Christmas trees, got a few balloons, bought some booze, and spent the night drinking and watching TV specials. The only variations were in the programmes watched – a whole night of Serbian folk music (you would have to be pretty drunk to watch that), Serbian oldies (drunk and stoned), or Serbian pop (clinically dead). Of course, you could have just slept trough all of it… millennium, schmillennium… what’s the big deal, anyway, right?
My New Year party, by the way, had the excitement best compared to the one you get while watching grass grow – none whatsoever, so I won’t even waste my words on describing it. The days after, however, were a bit more interesting. Not only had the opposition in Croatia, Serbia’s not so friendly neighbour, had a landslide victory in the parliament elections, influencing the public opinion here, but our opposition has shown some progress towards kicking some government ass as well.
Two of the biggest opposition leaders, Vuk Draskovic and Zoran Djindjic, have finally decided to talk, although not face-to-face, about joining forces. Of course, nobody here thinks they’ll actually unite their parties, but they’ll at least show some signs of coming to an agreement about the election details… or so we hope, because experience tells there will just be a lot of name calling and not much more at that conference of theirs. But hey, we can all dream, right? Or does that apply only outside Serbia?