Once in a lifetime

The last few years in Serbia seemed to move like one of its fast trains – 3 miles an hour. The month that has passed, however, flew by in a nanosecond, but a nanosecond in which you can pack a whole lot of things.

I’ve seen, for example, half a million people going through massive clouds of tear gas just to be able to see for themselves the federal parliament building being attacked by a bulldozer and burning, and possibly take some souvenirs out of it. Later that day the same people went through even more tear gas to both see the RTS building in flames and throw a few punches at its, then already former, director.

I’ve then seen RTS. That’s an incredible thing right there, since the only time I watched it before was when football was on. And boy was it different – staff wearing Resistance! T-shirts, reporters telling the truth, Democratic Opposition of Serbia representatives giving interviews. Never before have I heard so many people saying they have to hurry back home to watch the main RTS 7.30 newscast. An even more incredible thing was seeing Politika, a pro-Milosevic newspaper that couldn’t even be used as toilet paper (too rough), disappearing from the news stands in no time, with people literally fighting to get the remaining copies.

I’ve seen the backbone of Milosevic’s regime breaking. It was all too obvious he didn’t stand a chance when dozens of armoured vehicles carrying special police forces rolled through one of Belgrade’s main squares to be cheered by the masses there. By the time the twentieth carrier went by, you had a surreal image of people eating pizza with a so-what look on their faces while a stream of APCs was going through the square.

I’ve seen a night of pure anarchy in Belgrade. When the police are too frightened, or too tired, to get out of their stations, you can see smashed shop windows full of empty boxes on one side, and old shoes, jackets, jeans and God knows what else thrown away on the other. Then there are hundreds of thousands of people walking in the middle of the street at 3 in the morning, a few cars driving across the sidewalks, and nobody minding any of it. There were less traffic accidents then than there were on normal nights.

I stopped counting how many celebrities I’ve seen in the crowd, from actors and musicians through to politicians and footballers. Even more celebrities showed up on TV later to cheer for the new government, even the ones who sang at the socialists’ convention earlier this year. A similar thing happened to some of the lower ranking government officials, who started praising Kostunica with same vigour they did Milosevic. Of course, they all got a ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ reply from the new government.

I’ve seen the new president live. The fact that there is a president who isn’t Sloba is amazing on its own right, but also great was seeing him achieve without even trying to do what some western politicians have a great deal of trouble with – be cool. He writes his own speeches, or even more often, makes them up as he goes, but every time he manages to say just the right thing to just the right people at, yep, just the right time (‘It all still looks like a dream’ and ‘We did it all by ourselves’ are the first that come to mind). Even the people who still support the socialists have only good things to say about Kostunica.

I’ve seen Milosevic’s farewell speech on TV and I wasn’t the only one who shed tears for him. True, it was only because of the gas, but still… It’ll be hard living without the man who marked, well, pretty much all of my life. At least that’s what I thought when I watched him saying his goodbyes. An hour later it was ‘Sloba? Sloba who?’ for everyone. The next time I waste my mind thinking about him will be when he’s on trial in Belgrade, after which he’ll most certainly rot in a mouldy jail somewhere in Serbia, rather than in a comfy air conditioned cell in the Hague.

But I’ve also seen people being really hurt by his departure. Montenegro’s president Djukanovic saw his beacon of democracy in the Balkans overshadowed by the uprising here. Now that his harmonic symbiosis with Milosevic is over, he can only dream of what would have been had his party taken part in the elections. Albanian politicians too were on the verge of supporting him in the second round, since without a scapegoat for everything there’s no independent Kosovo.

Of course, when you can’t see a major political figure in the world that fails to mention there is no independence for the Albanians while there’s a democratic government in Serbia (‘You fought for democracy? There’s your democracy.’) one can’t help but smile. Payback’s a bitch.

I’ve seen the national currency, dinar, becoming stable for the first time in thirteen years. In a country with the highest inflation rate ever (several billion per cent a year) and the biggest ever bill (five hundred billion dinar bill I think it was), seeing the economy stabilise is pretty strange. Also strange, but not unpleasant, was seeing Red Star FC winning in the UEFA Cup, with game going through smoother than ever – no fights, no power outages, and no runaway flares killing people.

I’ve seen quite a few outages, however, but those were only the glimpses of what would have been had nothing happened on October 5th. You could say they were pretty hard glimpses – 16 (yes, sixteen) hour blackouts for almost a week, but nobody complained, knowing very well those were just the last few remnants of the old regime.

And earlier this morning, when I saw the Yugoslav flag raised in front of the United Nations building, it was all too obvious that the old regime was gone. Phew!