Category Archives: Serbia

What a marvellous invention the calendar was!

What a marvellous invention the calendar was. With it we have a number of annual things to celebrate – Christmas, Birthdays, Bank Holidays, Valentines Days, FA Cup Finals, Visits to the Dentist, Camera’s up the **** (just don’t even get me started on that subject… yet), and Car Insurance. Hang on, I lost the plot a bit there didn’t I. Not all those things are welcomed.

I’ll spare you the ‘Nobody loves me’ routine, the ‘No Liverpool in the Cup Final again’, the ‘I’m afraid that tooth has to come out Mr Steak’ and the ‘This won’t hurt a bit’ stories as well. However, the Car Insurance tale of woe just has to be told.

Thanks to my little topic on fuel tax, and a previous rant on motorway driving, you get the idea that I like cars. Well, I used to love driving. Fast and a tad irresponsibly, if truth be told. However, I’m all growed up now, and a nice, considerate driver.

Now at the age of 21, I had a turbo charged hot hatch which was reputedly the UK’s third most stolen car. Four years later I had a turbo-charged saloon that was the UK’s second most stolen car. The words car alarm, Thatcham and hefty premium were never far from my mind. Before the turbos I had a fuel-injected Cavalier which, in those days, was a quick motor. My point is for eight years I had high-risk cars, and all the time I was under 25 and classified a high-risk driver. Now I still drive a turbo, a turbo DIESEL. I’m two years off thirty (and death, if the reports are true) and I have a monstrous eight years no claims bonus. My car is fitted with a top class alarm and never sees more miles than 10k a year.

To insure this pristine example of economic motoring is more hassle than the bloody sports cars. At 24, with a 300bhp modified Cosworth I had people throwing themselves at my size nines to give me good policies. Not £3,000 a year either, the most I paid was £900. The last year I had the Cossie I paid £550. And that was fully comprehensive.

This year I have been quoted up to £615 for the diesel. A diesel for goodness sake, it isn’t powerful enough to pull an OAP out of bed. One phone quoter said to me it was a higher risk because it had a turbo – oh I see, bolt a hairdryer on and I can dump a Ferrari off the lights, can I?

Perhaps I’m classified with the 300 mph rocket-fuelled builders vans that menace XJ 220’s down the fast lane? Is it because I’m under 75? No, it’s purely because 24-year-olds driving Cosworths are having the odd prang, speeding fine and theft claims. That’s an excuse to sting everyone who owns an insurable vehicle.

I shopped around again this year, ringing 20 insurers and I can tell you I am pissed off at answering ‘lifestyle questions that may reduce your premium’. I want to insure my car, not my alcohol, cigarette or house buying addictions. My car is as dull as ditchwater, it has no spoilers, no fancy wheels or speed enhancing badges either. And I know my call is important, I’m sure the next available person will answer my call, and I’m pretty sure every effort is being made to get to me quickly, but it doesn’t stop me hating the bloody musical interludes thrust upon me. (Although one insurer plays 80s classics all day long – I know this because I spent hours in their calling queue).

At times like this, when my head is spinning and my wallet is lighter, I can almost appreciate the virtues of a Vespa. Well, almost.

Cartoon land

If you’ve ever watched Cartoon Network (although, considering the target audience for this site, the chances are you haven’t), you couldn’t have missed a short and effective commercial for the Two Stupid Dogs show which, I got the impression a few days ago after carefully observing what’s happening around me, fits all to well with the population of Serbia right now – “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” “Why?” you ask? Well…

1 – The Pensioners

If there’s one single group of people either disliked or hated by both the government and everyone else, it’s them. And they have only themselves to blame. Why? Well, I can understand that there comes a point in a person’s life where you just breathe, eat, sleep and really don’t care about much else. I can also understand that when that happens, you’re both physically and mentally too exhausted to protest when the pension you’ve been working hard for all your life is 6 months late, simply because the state officials were too busy filling their empty bank accounts with it to realize it’s physically not possible for the same money to be both in their pockets and yours at once.

But when you see some of your elderly friends rummaging through garbage cans every day to find something more decent to eat than what they can afford with their current budget, and when you have to spend 5 hours a day queuing for cooking oil, sugar, and other luxuries of that sort, must you really vote for the government every time and ruin it for the rest of us?

2 – The Unions

The most important thing about unions here, be they trade, labour or whatever, is that there’s a lot of ‘em. One example is the teachers’ union, which started threatening with a strike a few days ago. The teachers here haven’t been paid for more than 3 months, and when they do get their cheques, the inflation will most probably eat them up for dessert. So in order to get their hard-earned money (and if you ever get a chance to view a class in progress here, you’ll understand what I meant when I said “hard earned”), they announced they will have a meeting to decide whether there’ll be a strike.

The only problem is, there isn’t just one union that everybody is a member of and which holds a single meeting to decide when the strike would take place – the number of the teachers’ unions here is closer to 50. But then you have the unions of those unions, and then some more unions of those new unions, and then you have two big unions of those unions. And guess what, on top of all that, those two unions created last year? Why, a union, of course.

With so many unions of the unions’ unions (if there is such a thing), there are an equal number of separate meetings they have to hold. And because those meetings can stretch out to a month, by the time they all agree to have a strike, the state has already printed some more money to pay them all up. Of course, that causes inflation, which in turn eats up the money the teachers’ have been given, but after all those exhausting meetings, do you think they’ll really care? At least not for another semester.

3 – The Refugees

I guess I already wrote about how my mother works in what is now basically a refugee centre, and about the refugees themselves, so I probably don’t need to say anything about how hard their lives are (after all, I think nobody imagines life of a refugee as anything other than hard). I didn’t mention, however, who or what most of those people blame for what’s happened to them. Do they blame the government of Croatia, for having their army cleanse them from the country? Do they blame the government of Serbia, for not doing anything to prevent it? Or do they think it’s all their own fault, because they were so full of themselves as to think they could get independence from Croatia? No, no and no. They don’t even blame the international community for not helping them. In their mind, you see, according to a poll published this week, it’s the fault of Serbia’s opposition, which prevented the government from intervening, and which then started to collaborate with the West, which helped Croatia in it’s cleansing campaign. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they started blaming God for all their misery – because if God hadn’t created the world, there wouldn’t be any war, and they wouldn’t be refugees now, right?

4 – The Students

There was a time, back in ’68, when drugs in Serbia were rare, when there was this vague idea of democracy everybody was fighting for, and when students presented a major political force for change here. But that as back then, and the year 2000 is now. Every third student is a drug addict and nobody knows what to fight for anymore, but students are still considered a force for change. Well, they’re anything but. Some opposition student movements do exist, but I don’t think they have any idea what they’re doing. Just last week, one of them, called “Resistance”, started boasting about how many of its members have either been threatened or arrested by the police since the beginning of the New Year. It would be in order if they had anything else to boast with, like how many university professors loyal to the government admitted they got the job only because their connections to the regime, or how many people started supporting the opposition thanks to the Resistance’s actions. But the actions they have seem more likely to be a part of an art exhibition than an anti-government rally. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think throwing old shoes at the parliament building serves any purpose, apart from making some people think the opposition’s gone mad and that they’d better stick with the government. Whatever happened to the good old street protest walks?

Of course, there’s a lot more. There always is. These groups, however, stand for more than 60 per cent of Serbia’s population, and it only shows you why Serbia is where it is right now. In deep bleep (that’s self-censorship). But I guess that, for now, there is only one more thing I could say: I rest my case.

The circus is back in town

When a president looses 4 wars, makes 4 republics and a province leave the federation, becomes accused of war crimes, causes hyper inflation, steals more than a billion from the country’s budget and still proclaims that he is his country’s savior, what are his chances of getting a second 4 year term in office (never mind the fact that the constitution allows only one)? Well, if the country in question is Yugoslavia, and the president is named Slobodan Milosevic, those chances are not as bad as you might think.

Serbia’s national assembly began its regular session yesterday. To everybody’s amazement, one of its main opposition members, Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) managed to get the government to discus the terms of the elections (both federal and local) with them (when would the elections be held, what voting system would be used…). The catch? After voting on that, members of the ruling coalition didn’t vote for another one of SPO’s requests – for an independent commission to be created to see into an assassination attempt on SPO’s leader, Vuk Draskovic. The results of them not voting were already known – members of the SPO left the assembly and gave the government a well-known excuse – “the government wants to talk about the elections, but doesn’t have anybody to talk to”. And if there are no elections, Slobodan Milosevic and his party can’t loose, so they will stay in power for another year.

But what will happen in a year? Well, at the same time the assembly was opened, the official of Serbia began talks with the officials of Montenegro (the other member of Yugoslavia, and the only democratic one) on redefining the Yugoslav Federation. In other words, they want to turn the federation into a confederation (which means that each member has more independence), and by doing that, create a whole new country, with a different constitution. And if Milosevic has his way, that constitution won’t limit the number of terms it’s president could serve – which means that he could stay in power for as long as he wants.

You might think that the government of Montenegro wouldn’t accept that kind of a constitution, but you would be wrong. About a week ago, government run Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) began a continuing series on past connections between Milo Djukanovic (Montenegro’s president) and the mafia in Italy, Albania and Montenegro itself. RTS is known for distorting the truth, but this time it seems they got it right. It now looks like Milosevic and Djukanovic (of course, not directly) made a deal. Milosevic won’t interfere with the way Djukanovic runs his country, but Djukanovic would in turn let Milosevic do whatever he wants with the constitution. That way, status quo would be preserved – free Montenegro, a pseudo democracy in Serbia, and all of the politicians, be they democrats or communists, getting all the money.

RTS isn’t only used as a hidden weapon of persuasion. Sometimes, it does whatever its bosses want by brute force alone. For example, when it began live broadcasts of the national assembly five years ago, there were only raw video and audio feeds from the assembly, with a separate channel that showed everything, including the times when the assembly was empty. Then, a commentator was added to fill in the space when the MPs were on a break by retelling what each of the members said. After some time, the commentator was also used when the things talked about were not for everyone to hear (wars, taxes…). And from now on, every time an opposition member comes to the microphone, a commentator interrupts him and starts his account of the session so far. Two opposition members in a row? It doesn’t matter – the commentator will retell his story twice, or even three times, if the opposition is persistent. There is only one sentence that can best describe what has been happening in Serbia so far this week – “The circus is back in town”.

Don’t believe everything you hear

Who says you can’t learn anything from watching news? A few days ago I picked up a great technique for getting people to believe every bit of crap you give them, the more far fetched, the better, and not from RTS, but from one of your 24 hour satellite news channels. You just have to say: ‘Yes, most people think that (a true statement here), but actually it’s the complete opposite.’ And then start a tale about how propaganda had misled people into believing otherwise.

You might have already guessed how I learned about it. The true statement from that template I just gave you was that life in Serbia is bad. But instead of a so-called foreign affairs analyst saying ‘but people there live even better than we here in the UK do’, he said something slightly more believable. He said that how we live today isn’t much different from how we lived before all the wars broke out and sanctions were put into place almost a decade ago. He didn’t mean that life was bad before, but that life now is actually quite good. And, gullible as I was, I bought it. It was a late night programme, so I went to bed thinking how it’s not such a bad world, or country rather, I live in.

An easy question now: guess how I realised it wasn’t true? Yep, the only thing I had to do is wake up the following morning. I brushed my teeth with a humanitarian aid tooth brush that makes my gums bleed (better ones cost a quarter of what my mother makes in a month, and by our standards she makes quite a lot), and ate eggs fried in pure fat for breakfast. Well, unless of course you’re willing to spend three hours queuing for rationed cooking oil.

What was bad, however, is realizing that. And I know I’ve said this many times before, I’m one of the more fortunate of the unfortunates living here. Yes, there are a lot of people in Serbia who would consider it a great joy to have a new tooth brush (“new” being all that’s less than two years old), or eggs to fry and even fat to fry them in. But do I feel any sympathy for them? No. Why? Because if you ask them who they’ll vote for in the next elections they’ll all unanimously say, ‘For Sloba!’ And does that mean that all those people who do have enough money to afford both a normal diet and luxuries like satellite TV, computers and going to the movies every other week, are against the regime? Well, if you have all those and don’t have a membership card to any of the ruling coalition parties, then the answer would have to be yes. That’s because people who were able enough to have all the things I just mentioned while Sloba is in power know that they’ll have even more when he’s dethroned.

And even those with a card aren’t so sure about their loyalties any more. Most of them became members simply because of business. Having a membership card to SPS or JUL is like having a no-limits credit card with nil per cent APR, opening the doors to all big banks and creditors, and enabling you to pull one of those scams that every person in Serbia knows about, but can’t do a single thing to prevent it. Because when one Deutsche Mark is officially worth six dinars, but can be sold for 22,5 in the street, who’s to stop you from buying a certain amount of the German currency in a state bank, and then selling it on the black market. Well, the answer would be ‘the financial police’ (at least that’s how we call them), but see if they can touch you if you flash that membership card of yours in front of their faces. Then again, you need that very same card to buy Deutsche Marks from a state bank, and because of that the chances are the police won’t even bother you.

So, if you’ve got your membership card only for business sake, why risk your life in case riots or, God forbid, a civil war breaks out? The card then wouldn’t be a key to all the state banks, but instead a lock on your death-row cell (not literally, I must add). That’s why the ruling parties’ members are now divided into two camps – the ones who keep their distance and although not openly supporting the opposition, do nothing to promote their parties causes. The others are the ones who fiercely protect their leader and would quote ‘most rather see the throats of all the opposition bastards slit.’(I overheard that from a conversation my father had with one of his “friends”… good thing he didn’t see some of the anti-government posters we have in our house).

Some people think the end of something is near, carried by the momentum of the big unified opposition rally to be held on April 14th. To tell you the truth, I’m not that worked up about it, mostly because there’s still far too much animosity between the opposition leaders for a broad coalition like that to work (although I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice, for a change). I also think that something will end in the near future, but my opinion is based on the following few facts: In 1975 the Yugoslav basketball team was first in the European Championship.
In 1978 the Yugoslav basketball team was first in the World Championship. In 1979 the Yugoslav basketball team was third in the European Championship. In 1980 the president of Yugoslavia died. In 1995 the Yugoslav basketball team was first in the European Championship. In 1998 the Yugoslav basketball team was first in the World Championship. In 1999 the Yugoslav basketball team was third in the European Championship. In 2000… well, figure it out yourself. I know I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for most part of the year. I think I’ll have them super glued.

Rallying for the Cause

This is the sixth time I’m writing the opening sentence for this article.It’s not that the last five, those that now rest in the great binary beyond,weren’t any good. In fact, most of them were probably better than the one you’ve just read. But the problem was they were all simply too clear and understandable to describe an event as confusing as the opposition rally held last Friday.

It’s not an information overload as much as conflicting accounts that will get you confused. First things first – how many people attended? A newspaper called ‘Borba’, so hardcore in communism that even their typeface is red, said there were 20,000 people. RTS reported 30,000. Associated Press said it was ‘over 100,000’ while according to Reuters it was ‘close to 150,000’.

Most independent media put it over 200,000 and my father, one of that unknown number of protesters that attended the rally, thinks it’s nearer 300,000. Studio B, a TV station run by one of the biggest opposition parties, SPO, kept saying in their live coverage that hundreds of thousands are on the streets, until at one point they said the numbers were close to half a million. And my brother, also out there in Belgrade booing every time some of the speakers mentioned Sloba’s name, is convinced there were more than 500,000 people out there.

And how did the protests go? ‘Some people started crying when Vuk Draskovic came to the stage,’a Studio B reporter said. ‘Awesome,’my brother muttered after coming home. ‘Marked with peace and tolerance,’the independents’ wrote. Most foreign channels mentioned: ‘a slight feeling of uneasiness felt between the two biggest opposition leaders Draskovic and Djindjic.’

‘The rally started late because there weren’t enough people too fill the whole square, the crowd booed to the opposition leaders more than they cheered, and most people left an hour into the event when one of the speakers mentioned some of the Serbia’s provinces getting more autonomy and another offered hanging certain individuals to lamp posts as the quickest way to get this country on it’s feet,’ – I guess there’s no point in saying who’s the author of this brilliant peace of journalistic integrity, honesty and impartiality.

But what was it really like? The truth is, I just don’t know. The fact that I wasn’t even there isn’t the only reason for that, because neither my father nor my older sibling have a clue about where they were and what they heard – they were more eager to watch the tape of the rally than I was.

Actually, the whole week was as confusing as they come, with RTS inviting Djindjic and Draskovic to a TV duel with some of the government officials, hoping to get them into an argument between each other, and then revoking their invitations when only one of them, Djindjic, accepted.

However, Djindjic did have his turn at pouncing the government the very next day right here in Jagodina, sharing the studio of one of late Arkan’s media legacies with ultra nationalist Radical party leader Vojislav Seselj, one of those three officials he was invited by RTS to argue with. It’s not everyday you get to see something like that – in the past year or so the gap between the government coalition parties and the opposition ones had become wider than ever, with the former calling the latter ‘traitors’ and ‘the extended arms of the NATO alliance just waiting for a new bombing campaign’in almost every public speech.

The outcome of the show, a draw that leaves both men thinking they’ve outsmarted the other, and people wondering why the hell did they watch a three hour name calling marathon full of hundreds of times before heard phrases from both sides, was very much a preview of what was to come the next day – the rally.

If you ask the government supporters about the meeting, they’ll say it showed the opposition’s disunity and lack of support from the public, the numbers in ‘Borba’ being the main argument. It also showed, they will say, how far the opposition is willing to go in order to gain more votes, and the biggest proof of their absence of patriotism would be the fact that Rasim Ljajic, a Muslim politician calling for more autonomy of the province of Sandzak, and leader of the three biggest parties in Vojvodina, also a Serbian province wanting more autonomy, were all called on stage to address the protesters.

If you asked the people who were out there in the streets of Belgrade that day about what they thought, they’d say that the rally was not only a showcase of the opposition’s unity, with Djindjic and Draskovic shaking hands, but also the proof that the government is frightened for its future more than ever.

Most of those people think that even more that half a million people would have attended (‘And it was half a million, they said just that on Studio B’), if not for the government’s below the belt hits like airing pirated copies of the ‘American Beauty’ and the new James Bond on one of its TV stations, jamming Studio B’s signal during the live coverage of the protests and replacing it with one of their own stations’, more known for it’s late night porn than objective reporting, or putting road blocks on the freeway to stop the out of town protesters on their way to Belgrade from getting there in time.

That last thing had quite a large potential of backfiring. The bus my brother was in encountered one of those road blocks, but instead of turning back to Jagodina they put a road block of their own, stopping not just buses packed with protesters, but the whole of traffic. If not for the soft-hearted policemen begging them to stop because they actually support the opposition’s demands for change, more than a dozen human walls like that on all major roads across the country would have caused a lot of stir.

The truth is not, as some may think, somewhere in the middle, but leaning quite a bit to the opposition’s side of the story. Yes, the rally could have done without some speakers calling for Sloba’s execution, and yes, the opposition does need a bit more unity. Some even think that this rally wasn’t needed and achieved nothing. But it had to be held, if just as an argument for the opposition that they’ve tried absolutely everything to have peaceful changes by spelling out once again their demands for early ‘fair and democratic’ elections. But until then, they can at least say that thanks to them the a dream of many single men, and some women, has been fulfilled – free porn for everyone.

A Bridge Too Far

Jagodina (central Serbia, pop. 50.000), April 21st this year, noon. A crowd of over a hundred is gathered near one of many narrow old pedestrians-only bridges over the Belica river. A person who, although bearing absolutely no physical resemblance to me, happens to be my brother and is standing in front of them trying to give a speech under the blazing sun.

I’m in a different part of the town at the time, learning about Hook’s Law of Elasticity, but from what I could hear from my brother rehearsing the night before, I can pretty much recreate in my head what’s happening out there while I’m drawing a force/length diagram on the blackboard.

‘Friends and comrades, fellow citizens, ladies and gentlemen, members of the ‘Resistance’, welcome to the grand opening of the Belica bridge,’ he starts. People are a bit surprised to hear a ‘comrades’ communist welcome, but are then reassured they came to the right place, hearing the ‘Resistance’ being mentioned.

‘Before the tape is cut, let’s give a big applause to the people who laid the foundation stone for this amazing four-lanes bridge more than two years ago, but who, because of their modesty, gave us the honour of opening it for use.’

Again, the crowd doesn’t know what to make of the speech. They do sense the irony of it, but are not sure whether they should really applaud or boo, like they do any other time ‘those people’ are mentioned. So they just keep silent. My brother continues with his speech, not so sure anymore that the people will understand all the sarcasm in it:

‘It’s not only modesty that stopped them from coming here, but also the fact that there are so many more foundation stones to be laid across this great country of ours. We are all happy they keep laying them, keeping the quarries working triple shifts for many years to come. Why plant crops? Hail falls and destroys them, a flood comes and washes them away. Stones last forever!’

Apparently, they do get it, if all the cheering and laughter that can be heard is any measure.

‘Thank you for sharing with us the joy of this momentous occasion and showing to our builders that we are still following every move they make, and that we will never forget what they have done for, to, and in the name of, us.’

Once again, a cheer and an applause. My brother moves to make room for another speaker, but not before the tape is cut to open, or re-open I should say, that pedestrian bridged under which a foundation stone was laid two years ago for a four-lanes traffic one. Another ‘Resistance’ performance well done.

I first heard of the ‘Resistance’, or ‘Otpor’, as it’s called in Serbian, more than a year ago, when they had one of their first performances – throwing shoes at the Federal parliament building and painting red footprints on the streets of Belgrade. The first opinion I had of them was not a very good one – the words ‘brain dead’ come to mind. Their symbol was a clenched fist, their colour was black, they were all fresh out of, or still in, high school.

Maybe I don’t know how to overthrow a government, but I certainly know how it’s not done, and practically stamping ‘Hitler’s Youth’ on your forehead, thus giving the government and RTS plenty of ammo to shoot at you, probably tops my Not-To-Do list.

And for once the government and I sort of felt the same. RTS didn’t even use all that ammunition the ‘Resistance’ left it, opting to leave the public to decide for itself on whether the so-called student movement is just a handful of neo nazis, or a mislead group of young people residing on the payroll of some foreign agencies. They were neither, of course, and I knew that. But I also knew that abstract actions like the above mentioned shoe throwing campaign wouldn’t motivate the simple people of Serbia to make a move against the government. Then the war came, people had much more important things on their mind than kicking Sloba out of power, and ‘Otpor’ laid low for six months.

At the end of the whole Kosovo ordeal, only a small number of people in Belgrade knew of it or had seen it in action, and the more provincial parts were totally unaware of what was about to hit them. ‘Hit’ is probably to strong a word to describe what happened. It was gradual, actually. First you’d hear something about ‘Resistance’ activists in Belgrade being arrested, molested or beaten up by younger members of the government coalition parties, SPS, JUL and SRS. Then the same thing would happen in other, smaller cities. And for every ‘Otpor’ action that was interrupted, there were two successful ones.

For every activist that was beaten up or in jail, five more would join. Pretty soon every town in Serbia was swarming with young men and women in black shirts with a fist in front, right? Well, not really. They were more covert. A few posters here and there, a few stickers glued to the doors of public buildings and schools, and just a couple of low key performances aimed at students and intellectuals.

The first time I came in direct contact with the movement was when my very own brother brought a couple of ‘Otpor’ pocket calendars and badges to the house, to be handed around school. Then he brought some more calendars, then some posters, and after that he surprised us all saying he’ll be giving a speech at a ‘Resistance’ performance. You’ve already read the outcome.

What turned a disorganised group of students into a movement maybe most feared by the government? The government itself. After the bombing they were frightened of everything threatening their claim to power, and the fear of youth was one of the greatest ones. That led to ‘Otpor’ activist getting beaten up, foreign agencies noticing the movement and giving it money, enabling it to spread around to cities other than the capital, gaining support, respect, even admiration, in the process.

But what do I make of them now? Well, although progressing quite a bit from my first ‘brain dead’ evaluation they’re still not the thing to kick Sloba out, only a not too well organized gear in the greater opposition machinery they’d like to distance themselves from. Moral support? Definitely. Respect? Perhaps. Admiration? Most certainly not.

Forget politics, it’s time for football

I used to think it would be worthwhile for me to stay in Serbia if only to join the inevitable celebrations that will take place when Sloba finally croaks. However, back then my phone wasn’t bugged, and the police didn’t hang out on absolutely every street corner I set my foot upon.

Don’t think it has anything to do with me – if anybody would bug the phones in my house it would be to listen to my brother’s conversations with other ‘Otpor’ members, and I can see policemen everywhere I turn because they literally are everywhere. But even so, after what happened last month it’s just not funny anymore.

And a lot has happened. Too much for me to write about anyway, so I’ll just give you the end results of it: this country is now a dictatorship, the opposition is lying 50 feet underground, buried by it’s own incompetence, and with each passing day it seems more likely that the SS “Serbia” that’s slowly been sinking for a decade now won’t be finding a plug for it’s gaping hole anytime soon. And that’s an optimistic view. But right now I’m just too fed up with politics to comment on anything that happened in the last month. I mean, do you really expect someone to go on and on and on about politics, and in Serbia of all places, for six full months without getting tired of it?

It was interesting at first, when it looked like the opposition knew what it was doing, and the government seemed at least half-sane. Now it’s just sad and pathetic when you read that Saddam Hussein sent a letter to Sloba calling for an official union between Yugoslavia and Iraq to fight the evil of the imperialistic west.

Even more sad is the fact that when a country goes down the drain so does its football squad. At least that’s true for Yugoslavia, whose national team barely beat China (1-0), had two 0-0 draws with the South Korean B team, and lost to Hong Kong (4-2). They don’t even have their own league for Christ’s sake!
Maybe you’re wondering why we had to go to the Far East to play some friendlies. Well oddly enough, it’s not the government to blame for that one, but a foreign factor. Every single country that Yugoslavia wanted to play with, from Turkey to Holland, either agreed for a friendly and then cancelled the match or refused it right from the start. And that’s not the only problem we have in Euro 2000 because, for whatever reason, Albania started a campaign to ban us from the championships altogether. Politics in sport? Nah!

But it’s not the first time something like that has happened. Back in ‘92 we did get banned so Denmark got to go instead of us, and even won the finals in the end. Some are now saying it would have been us instead of the Danes if we had only had a chance, and they would probably be right. After all, it was only a year after Red Star Belgrade had won both the European Champions’ and the Inter–Continental cups, beating Olympique Marseille and Glasgow Rangers in the finals.

But that was nine full years ago and right now I can’t see how on earth we got to be the second favourites in our group, with Spain in the top spot, when we’re sharing the group with Norway. There’s also Slovenia, who led 2-0 against France before receiving three rather unfortunate goals. I don’t really think Yugoslavia is sad enough to get beaten by them, but a draw seems more than likely.

But as always, we’ll find a way to somehow get through the first round and then lose, just like we did in France. Of course, we have only ourselves to blame for getting so low. After winning the Champions’ Cup, Yugoslav clubs – Red Star in particular – started exporting players like mad, with money from the transfers going God knows where. So pretty soon our players were all over the place, from England to Japan, Sweden to Cyprus. And when you have players who are supposed to be in the same national squad spread throughout the whole globe, adopting different styles and quite often arguing amongst themselves when they get to play against each other, you can’t really have a healthy competitive atmosphere.

That’s why England has a slight advantage over the others. Because your football is so much different than the one played anywhere else in Europe (“so much worse”, some would say… I wouldn’t comment), the number of your players abroad is… well… do you have any players abroad right now? Because of that you’re able to have a consistent strategy, even if it only consists of an abysmal number of long passes, so it doesn’t have to be changed or re explained every time a new coach comes around. Unlike here, I should add.

Actually, it would be fine, great even, to have a new strategy with each new coach. But we changed five in two years and none of them brought anything new. The defence is always the same one used in the air strikes – praying for the attackers to miss. And we can only score either from a free kick or in one of those where-did-the-ball-go situations in front of the opponent’s goal. It’s just like in NATO – when you have more than a dozen different sides, with different interests and different tactics, you can have no strategy whatsoever, not to mention a good one.

Which also reminds me of the almost non-existent opposition we have here. Believe it or not, but there are 192 registered parties in Serbia alone, not counting Montenegro. Which wouldn’t be so bad if they could at lest get their act together and do what they’re supposed to. And that’s just one of the reasons I no longer think that waiting for Sloba to fall is a good enough reason to stay here. It’s one of the reasons why packing my bags and leaving before the boat sinks wouldn’t make me a rat. Ghana really doesn’t look like a bad option right now…

A summer of discontent

So, it turns out I wasn’t wrong after all. After that match against Spain it looked like the Yugoslav team, contrary to what I wrote here a few weeks ago, actually had a chance of achieving something at Euro 2000.

But then he thing that every member of the squad dreaded happened – they got a good, clean and honest referee. To quote a compatriot’s message from Eurosport: “Holland were lucky we had 11 players”.

No red cards, no players leaving the field covered in blood, and no fans jumping into it to take a few swings at the ref. The team that played against the Dutch was the good old (emphasis on old) Yugoslavia all of us here know. Slow, dull, unimaginative… No, wait, ‘unimaginative’ is a too big word to waste on such a team. ‘Crap’ is more like it. I could now start dissecting players in the team and tell you what was wrong with every single one of them, including the ex top scorer Savo Milosevic, but I can’t see where that would lead. They were, are, bad. Period.

And it’s not just the team. It’s the whole bloody Yugoslav Football Federation. “Well, at least we got a goal”, was their first official statement. Then they just republished their old excuses list left from the last World Cup. “They were too tired” (And the Dutch had more time for rest?), “Some players were injured, some had red cards” (Umm… isn’t it your job to find good substitutes?), “They were cautious not to get booked too many times” (For all I care, have only four players on the team, just score some damn goals and don’t receive six of them in return), “Well, it’s no big deal. Denmark, France and the Czechs also lost” (The worst team of the cup on one side, a team of substitutes on the other, and I don’t remember anyone in the cup so far getting six goals in a single game).

Radio Television of Serbia, of course, put a whole new spin on the situation. The Yugoslav team let in six goals while scoring only one and have massive fines to pay to UEFA for not so professional conduct of both the players and the fans, so the first question asked is by the RTS reporter is, naturally, whether the players felt “politically intimidated” while in Holland.

Will they sack the coach or will he resign? Will only Milosevic
stay or will they also keep Drulovic? Will Kralj, the goalkeeper, commit suicide or will somebody shoot him? How about some real questions here?

But I’m being too optimistic. Digging old coach Boskov out of his grave was too much trouble to just bury him back now. The players are maybe not the best this country has, but they are both more paid and better at sucking up to the government than the really good ones.

Red Star’s defence, Partisan’s attackers, Milosevic and Drulovic leading the team – that’s what I call a Yugoslav squad. Not some over-priced Socialist party jerks who mistakenly went into football instead of diving, which they’re much better at.
Actually, things aren’t so bad. Not many people outside of Yugoslavia will realise just how bad our team is. They’ll just think we burned out. And, unlike the English, we still have plenty of sports we’re great at.

Basketball, to name one. Or volleyball. Handball even. In all three of those e’re somewhere around top three in the world, and for a country of only a little over 10 million people that’s not so bad. Of course, with the Olympics on their way, there’ll certainly be something worth cheering about.

And in the mean time, I’m screwed. Euro 2000 is practically over, the aforementioned Olympic Games aren’t until September, and as for my holiday plans… well, I have none. And that’s something that pisses me off even more than Boskov’s statement that Yugoslavia weren’t all that bad against Holland.

My brother, who is, in a word, an ass, gets 20 full days in Italy practically for free. And I, having spent most of my life living with that… thing (I’m sure anyone with an older brother well understand), get the sympathy of everyone around me for not having enough money to get me a visa and an aeroplane ticket to Estonia, where I’d have the same free deal my brother got in Italy.

I know it doesn’t sound so hot, Estonia, but why the hell not? Right now Eritrea is a better option than staying here, with 35 degrees in the shade and a 9.5 UV index. And to think I could have made good money on the “Who’ll be next?” sweepstakes we have here, if only Slobba’s people had done a better job with the assassination attempt on Vuk Draskovic. Well, better luck next time I guess. This will be one long summer.

Amnesty, Copeland and German Shepherds

Move over, Amnesty International! There’s a new organisation on the horizon, ready to take care of all the things previous human rights movements avoided. C.O.S.A.D.C. is its name – Citizens Of Serbia Against David Copeland, and it’s more of an idea than a movement right now.

My idea, to be precise, that no man, woman or child in this country should be content before the Nailbomber gets what he deserves – a seventh consecutive life sentence.

Ok, it’s not that big at the moment. In fact, I’m its only member. But once I succeed in getting Copeland to stay in jail for seven lifetimes instead of only six, people will be queuing to campaign for the not yet exploited causes in the name of C.O.S.A.D.C. – from preventing cats’ rights abuses in France to putting the end to the horrible exploitation of dogs in German porn flicks. The name will, of course, be changed accordingly, to build up the public awareness for the issues raised – C.O.S.A.C.R.A.F., C.O.S.A.P.O.G.P.F…. only the sky will be the limit.

Why David Copeland, I hear you ask? Well, why not? We know he did it and pretty much everyone who knows about him is also against him, so the only thing left for me to do is petition for the British constitution and/or criminal law to be changed. I don’t know all that much about it either, but hey, how difficult can it be?

An added bonus would be the fact that the only opposition my campaign might have is David’s dad, the one who looks like he’s auditioning for a leading role in ‘Only Fools and Horses – the Musical’. Hell, it wouldn’t surprise me if he jumped right on board with the campaign, especially when he hears about the added air time he would provide with a move like that (“Yes, we all love and support David, but he already got six of them by regular means. I can’t see where’s the harm in giving him a seventh.”).

Besides, it’s not like something like this hasn’t been done before. In fact, people are doing it all the time, poking their noses into other nations’ business. Just last week I saw an Amnesty International representative giving an interview to the BBC. It was a woman, by the way (God forbid a humans’ rights group representative should be a man), and amongst other things, she said “we mustn’t rest until justice is done and Slobodan Milosevic stands trial in the Hague”.

Excuse me? “We”? Who exactly is this “we”? There aren’t many people that don’t praise Slobba for what he’s given them – most of the times the thing given was an independent state and the people in question were everyone from Croats to Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians, so it can’t be them that she was talking about. The only nation I can think of that has every right to wish his long, painful, and most of all soon death, therefore being the one best qualified for the role of “we”, is his very own, the one I’m a part of. Needless to say, I don’t remember anyone from Serbia giving a measly representative rights to speak in their name. That is, unless you count all those elections.

Now, Amnesty International is also campaigning for the sanctions to be lifted, a goal which goes hand in hand with the previous one, the ousting of Slobba. You lift the sanctions, people start getting better while no long fearing hitting the rock bottom, and they vote Slobba out of power.

He doesn’t agree, a small civil war breaks out, Slobba’s dead in a few days, Serbia becomes a democracy, and in the end, everybody’s happy – a textbook example of reverse psychology (to the National Security people reading this: This was just a theory. I’m in no way calling for an uprising against the government, the state, or the president. And even if I am, the anti-terrorism law doesn’t apply here, so sod off).

But the governments to which Amnesty is appealing to are everything but bright specimens of humanity. They use the very same strategy insects have while trying escape the house through closed windows – if you put enough effort into something, no matter what the tactics are, it’s bound to succeed. Effort equals pressure, and in their book, pressure is a synonym for sanctions, so they just make sure there’s a lot of them, the more Amnesty talks about justice the harder these sanctions get, and down goes the president, right?

Well, it just ain’t gonna happen.

While the things people from Amnesty are doing aren’t directly harmful, and some, like calling for sanctions to be lifted are the exact opposite of that, the information Amnesty generously spreads around is what’s causing most of the damage.

When they’re doing what they are supposed to, criticising their own countries and trying to improve human rights at home first, their announcements are conveniently printed in the smallest of letters on the 36th page of The Times, if at all. But if they say something in the lines of “ has a very poor human rights record”, it’s bound to end up on the front page, with at least one current events programme talking about it.

That’s why I’m taking no chances – it’s poking around all the way. Serbia? Serbia who? This way I might as well end up giving an interview for the infamous RTS about how the justice system in Britain is crap. Those of you who’d like to join the crusade for improving the rights of French cats and those poor German Shepherds should bare in mind that this after all, is Serbia. So to keep in line with the local traditions, start your own movement, or better yet a dozen of them, and we’ll see about making a coalition. Just remember: I was there first.

Deep in hibernation…

You’d think that after ten years of special reports, live coverage, and those ‘Only on CNN’ news conferences that weren’t really exclusive to CNN, I would get used to the bullshit journalists keep throwing around all over the place. But that’s not really the case, because every time a no-name reporter wanting to put a few extra seconds into his (or, more often, her) report, they mention the ‘tension-filled streets of Belgrade’ or other one hundred per cent pure unrefined shite. Cue an urge to hit that particular person’s head with a heavy object, most preferably a TV set, a couple of times.

Not that I think anybody really watches those reports, or cares about what they heard if they do see them. But if they are so wrong about what things are like here (and they’re hot, but that’s only because of the sun), then how can I be sure that anything that’s been said, be it about the new government of Fiji, the Middle East peace talks, or the porn industry in Budapest, is actually true? Some of it is true, of course, and that makes it only worse. Trying to separate the rights from the wrongs in 40 degrees centigrade isn’t really good for your brain.

That’s why this summer I’m hibernating. One of Serbia’s princes is dead? He was well over 70, so it was about time. Draskovic has split from the rest of the opposition? No surprise there, he was always a wanker. Slobba says there’ll be local, federal and presidential elections on September 24rd.

Well, to tell you the truth, I did get excited about that one.
For about 14 seconds, then a fly got too close to my jaffa cake and in the time it took me to help that fly get to the great waste dump of beyond, I forgot all about that thing that’s supposed to be held in September… err… ah, yes, the elections. That doesn’t mean the elections themselves won’t be exciting. Far from it.

The Socialist party is stepping up its campaign, and so are the opposition parties in Serbia, but a very large part of Yugoslavia, one whole republic to be precise, doesn’t want to co-operate. You could say it’s for a very good, and a rather complicated reason that, when overly simplified, goes something like: The government of Montenegro doesn’t recognise the federal government of Yugoslavia because the prime minister, who is also the leader of Montenegro’s biggest opposition party and a part time Milosevic lackey, got the job with the help of Slobba’s unconstitutional, but nevertheless legal, decisions. And it’s easy to have decisions like that when there are three separate sets of laws – a federal one and two for each of the republics, neither of which is in-line with the constitution – that the president can choose from on his own whim.

But this is one of those rare moments when it’s actually better to do what Slobba says should be done – hold the elections. Whether Slobba wants you to do it is a totally different thing, because Montenegro refusing to abide would be a perfect opportunity for yet another Balkan crisis that seems to extend Milosevic’s reign by a couple of years.

Let’s say the elections are held, with Montenegro participating. In a modern dictatorship there are only two possible outcomes of an election, no matter how many of them (federal, local, presidential…) are actually held – either it’s the dictator who wins or the opposition. And if indeed it is the opposition that takes the victory, the government more often than not annuls the election results.

And that’s when things start to get interesting. Actually, they’d get interesting even if it’s the government who wins – either way, the elections are then proclaimed unfair and fraudulent by the opposition. Big protests arise, the government is scared shitless, and the all-mighty international community, my favourite group of people, gets to decide the fate of all involved, directly or not.

When something like that happened four years ago, albeit in a smaller scale, even my great grandmother could have made a better decision that the IC – and she’s dead. They had let Milosevic walk away unscathed from altering the results of the local elections, which were a landslide victory for the opposition.

But back then Slobba was, in their minds at least, ‘the guarantee of stability in the region’, and now he is anything but. Some of the more appropriate reactions from the IC this time would be to a) drop the war crimes charges and give Slobba a piece of land in Siberia, b) pull out another NATO paper tiger stunt and pray to God it’ll work better than with Kosovo, or c) keep quiet and let things go their natural Romania style course.

Only the signs coming out of Montenegro aren’t really encouraging. Too many hours watching three-letter acronyms on satellite made them think Milosevic is the only person who could win an election in Serbia. The announcement from Vuk Draskovic that he and his party will be boycotting the elections because of unfair election laws, only encouraged that.

Elections or no elections, I’m just glad that with being unable to drive or vote also comes the Serbian equivalent of a ‘get out of jail free’ card. If, or better, when the need arises for everybody to serve their country i the best possible way, ‘he best possible way’ for me won’t be prematurely going to the Yugoslav army. And unless September 24rd, 2000 is in two years, it looks like I just might be out of the woods forever.