Category Archives: Serbia

The heat is on

“And we have some incredible news just in!”, I heard a hoarse voice (you never can tell if it’s a man or a woman) scream over the radio two days ago.

My heart skipped a beat. Could it be? August 22nd – the ‘We finally got rid of the dictator day’? Nope.
“The temperature has just dropped by two degrees centigrade!”

If somebody had been in the room with me, they could’ve heard the bubble bursting.

But that’s how hot it has been over the past couple of weeks. Forty two degrees in Belgrade, and even hotter in other parts of the country. Only the heat isn’t the real problem. The real problem would be the UV index that everyone keeps getting reminded of over the state media, along with the usual “don’t forget to put high SP factors and have sunglasses with UV filters on”.

I’d do that, honestly I would. If only someone could find me a pair of UV filter sunglasses than don’t cost half of what my folks make in a month. And by Serbia’s standards, they make quite a lot.

I could even, somehow, probably, if I try hard, get over the fact I can’t get out of the house without getting skin cancer. What I will never be able to stand, however, is that ‘I want to piss everyone off’ attitude I get every time the summer is hot, humid and really sticky.

So far I’ve managed to insult everyone in my family (mother, father, brother & co), plus a dozen or so friends and relatives I never really get along with too well anyway. Not that they don’t deserve it. All you have to do is tell them the truth of who, or in most cases what, they actually are and they’ll be mad at you for at least a month.

Of course, every good physiatrist will tell you that it’s themselves and not you they are mad at, and they would probably be right. But believe you me, figuring out your real feelings is one thing most people will never be able to do (as will a few fresh bruises I have on me confirm).

I heard someone say that better days are ahead, and in more ways than one. First they predict a cooling during the rest of the week. Ok, they got that part right, it’s well under forty today (I’d say somewhere between 39 and 39 and a half). And then there are the elections.

Now, I have some trouble dealing with that. Not that I have anything to deal with, of course, since I can’t vote yet, but I’m still very much concerned about the results. Some say, and by ‘some’ I don’t mean only the government’s supporters, that the socialist party will win again, with or without a bit of result tweaking. Others think that the opposition, and when I say opposition I don’t even take that dirty, son of a something, ‘if-I-don’t-win-it-nobody-will’ bastard Draskovic into consideration, will have at least a five per cent majority.

But as with everything in life, it won’t be that clear cut. In the end, the results will, unfortunately for the voters, be a murky and confusing concoction of both sides’ announcements of victory, a bit of name calling, and at least a month worth of good old street rallying.

There’s one thing with this whole elections business however that I don’t understand. It’s not some big issue or anything, just a tiny detail. The socialists want to win, I think everyone understands that by now. And when somebody wants to win something, at least they wouldn’t want to do anything that would lessen their chances, right?

Then what the hell is the socialist party doing putting my father as the head of the local election (i.e. vote counting) committee, and his father as one of its members?

That in itself isn’t such an important position, since there are thousands of local election committees around the country. Important are the signs that the government officials are getting careless.

Ok, so they both have that party membership card, but they got them years ago, when nobody knew what mess this would turn out to be.

And my father is, I must add, a member of the ‘Resistance’. You know, the ones in black shirts with the fist symbol that keep getting arrested and/or severely beaten by the police. The government maybe wants to get them out of the streets and into jails, but, stupid as they are, the socialists just put one of them, knowingly or not, to be their main man for vote counting in the city of Jagodina.

If it was anyone other than my father in that place (being a socialist, a ‘Resistanc’e member and the head of that comity at the same time), I maybe wouldn’t have wondered about their decision so much. But my father isn’t one of those who likes to keep things fair. He wants his own party to lose, and to lose bad.

Which they will. Only they’ll cover it up. And then there’ll be that confusion I talked about. Then a lot of trouble. Then some more confusion.

And after that, everything will be all right. Hopefully.

A fair election: don’t you believe it!

I already wrote a thing like the one I’m writing now once before. Only it didn’t start like this, nor did it have the same ending. Actually, the middle part was also different and the only thing this has in common with what I’ve written before is the number that I put at the top – 25, but technically, just technically, it is the same thing.

And in that piece I went on and on and on about all the what ifs and the how comes, the whys, the Xs and the Zs, the kidnappings, the speeches and all the other bollocks that in some way, shape or form had to do with the September 24th elections.

Then I read what I had written and got confused somewhere near the third paragraph. I stopped, spent some time thinking about what I should do to make it more understandable, and after about five seconds decided that three strokes at the keyboard, Ctrl-A-backspace, was the only thing that could be done for it to be clearer.

Because in the end, no matter who the people really vote for, no matter what cheating technique the government decides to use, and no matter what combination of wins and loses you take into account, the end result is always going to be the same – trouble, and lots of it.

That’s why nobody yelled anti-government slogans in any of the three UEFA Cup matches Yugoslav teams played yesterday (and all three of them draws), why nobody is saying a word about politics in public. For the first time in the short ten-year history of elections in Serbia, the only huffing and puffing and ‘we’re going to bring our opponents to their knees’-ing is done solely by the government, the ones who now look like anything but a serious political party.

I based that largely on a speech Slobba gave a few days ago. To be short, I came to a conclusion that he and at least half of the three-dozen ministers, generals and butt kissers, which stood behind him during the speech, are, in the most literal sense of the word, mad.

“We are the only thing that stands between the NATO villains and our friends from the east. We must protect the freedom of the world at any cost, and that’s what we are all about – freedom.” No comment.

It’s not only what he said, but how he said it, looking like he absolutely believed in every single word that came out of his mouth, and he probably does. Add to that the way he looked while delivering his speech, bloated face, hunched back and a mad twinkle to his eyes, and you’ll see what can become a great legal argument once he gets his ass hauled to the Hague – an insanity plea that looks more and more likely to become his best chance of defence.

Stand-up comics, if we had any, would probably say that his eyes were all puffy from mourning the loss of his best man. The joke in that is that his best men and once the president of Serbia, Ivan Stambolic, has probably been kidnapped by Slobba’s own men more than two weeks ago. The person who removed him from the position of the president to claim the title himself was Slobba, and the exact date of that is, surprise, surprise, September 24th, 1987.

So, exactly 13 years after he came to power, Milosevic is giving the opposition one more, some would say it’s last, chance of throwing him out of office, right? Well, he may be mad, but he’s not stupid. Even if he does believe in his election victory he, or someone in that mass of more than three dozen cabinet members, isn’t taking any chances.

Besides eliminating the sole living reminder of Serbia’s pre Slobba political past, he also seems to have blackmailed one of the opposition leaders, Vuk Draskovic, to go into the elections separately from the rest of the lot, and hopefully for Milosevic take some votes away from them. But the only thing Draskovic’s ‘betrayal’, as it were, will achieve is the burial of his own party, once the largest single opposition party in Serbia that’s now dwindling with less than 10 per cent of the voters.

But that’s the only certain thing about these elections that the Serbian Renewal Movement will die out. The rest of it, who will win, by how much and how, is an unknown. But be it the real opposition, and their presidential candidate Vojislav Kostunica (who is the leader in all of the polls, in some cases more than 10% ahead of Slobba), or the ultra-nationalists with a candidate than never finished college, or the socialists with Slobba in charge, I already said what the outcome will be, albeit in the most broadest of terms.

Because although two out of three serious parties involved are staying away from mass rallies just yet, all of them know very well that a lot of huffing and puffing will arise if either of the three doesn’t win.

And as with any elections, there can be only one winner.

That would, if the elections were fair and free, be Kostunica (with the socialists loosing miserably, of course), but this is Serbia, where a man can misplace more than 500,000 votes and not get punished for it.

The only glimmer of hope is that, unfortunately for Mr. Milosevic, misplacing a million is nigh on impossible.

“Save Serbia and kill yourself, Slobba”

Deranged politicians, mad generals, street rallies, power cuts, union strikes, teacher strikes, a general strike, the Resistance, police beatings, government cover-ups, Montenegrin mafia, election fraud, RTS v. independent media, the Socialists v. the United opposition, us v. them, “the international community”, Kosovo situation, that Draskovic git, the Orthodox church, our traditional friendship with Ghana, illegal arrests, and, of course, football.

This isn’t only a list of just about every major factor and event I mentioned at least once during the 10 months I’ve been doing this – every one of those things is once again here, only this time it’s all at once.

Up until ten days ago Serbia could have passed for a normal eastern European country to a casual bystander, though an unusual number of Yugos and mile-long queues in front of grocery stores would probably arouse some suspicion.

But now, it’s all upside down.

Every single store, be it private or state owned, has some form of a “Strike!” sign in front, schools aren’t working, neither are universities and people who are on strike aren’t wasting their newly acquired free time watching TV (since the government is using blackouts to intimidate people, putting the blame on the coal miners’ strike, while using army generals to threaten the strikers).

Instead, they’re blocking roads, government offices and the few businesses that are still in operation, chanting the now famous “Save Serbia and kill yourself, Slobodan” sentence, which sounds great in Serbian, but is really crap when translated into any other language.

The funny thing is – all of this didn’t really need to happen. For a few brief moments Slobba had a chance to do what Draskovic had done after hearing the results of his party – gracefully accept the overwhelming defeat and take a one-way ticket to Russia, Cuba or Iraq. But as always, he blew it.

How that happened doesn’t really matter. What does matter is what’s going on now, and the shortest possible way to describe it would be to quote the future mayor of Belgrade, Milan Protic – “This isn’t the beginning of the end – it’s The End”.

And taking a part in it can be very therapeutic. I should know – I’ve been a part of the first two hundred people that left their work (or in this case school) on a Friday morning in Jagodina to do some protesting. The very same day, two hundred turned into one thousand, which increased by five hundred that evening. The numbers grew and grew, until Tuesday night when more than five thousand people came out on the streets (when I say that I mean that it could be six, or seven, or even eight thousand of them – it just too big to measure without a bird’s eye view).

When you have a crowd that big around you, you’re allowed, or more likely expected, to make as much noise as possible, whether by shouting, clapping, or whistle blowing. That’s one reason I now feel pretty strange – with a sore throat, a slight headache, and a not so slight ringing in my ears.

Other symptoms include feet that feel like they’re about to come off, baggy eyes and an all-round messy appearance, which is understandable when you consider the amount of time it takes several thousand people to cover more than 50 miles by feet, all the time bumping into each other and stepping on each other’s feet. And who’s got time to shave and take a bath while bringing down a government?

If you think the numbers I’ve been talking about so far are small, you’re right. But remember, that’s in Jagodina, which is by no means a big, important urban centre, at least not since Arkan got shot. Other, larger towns had tens of thousands of people on the streets – Belgrade had half a million the night when it was clear They lost – with the Serbian church accepting Kostunica as the winner (and when Red Star beat Leicester, I should add – a significant amount of people rallied just because of that).

A valid question right now would be one asking what exactly all those people are trying to achieve. And it’s simple, Milosevic lost in the first round of voting, with only 35 per cent of the vote, while Kostunica got 53 per cent. But the official (i.e. Slobba’s) results say he has 40 per cent, with 48 per cent for Kostunica. So, Kostunica somehow lost five per cent and, surprise, surprise, Milosevic gained the same amount of votes.

Since neither candidate got more than 50 per cent, there must be a second round, or so the Federal Electoral Commission says (They offered my father to once again be in one of the local commissions. He told them to go bleep themselves, in exactly those words… except for the bleep).

The most problematic are votes from Kosovo – they say 200,000 people voted there (needless to say, all for Milosevic), but the UN counted only 45,000.

The opposition filed a complaint saying 155,000 votes are fake, but the commission turned it down. The reason – “Albanians are also citizens of Yugoslavia. They have a right to vote for whomever they want”. The commission also stated that the proof of the elections being regular was the number of foreign observers that were there – all from Ghana, India, Pakistan, Iraq, and other such similar, quote, “ancient democracies”.

Montenegro was also a problem. Its president, and a close friend of the Mafia, refused to take part in the elections (thus causing a crisis and shifting the attention from, ahem, his other activities), so Milosevic’s allies got all of the parliament seats there, which will give the socialists a majority in the parliament. But the allies I’m talking about want to see who will win the presidency, and then form a new government with the winners, which is only increasing the importance of the presidential elections’ outcome.

So, we’re now trying to get a recount of the vote, and that’s where the “international community” comes into play. If only they could get their act straight – two of the most important countries involved, Russia and Greece (traditional allies, blah, blah, blah…), are changing their position every day, first saying that there should be a second round, then that Kostunica is the winner after all, and after that that there should be a foreign mediation.

And until they finally agree about what they should do, we’re taking the matter into our own hands. This Thursday a great big stream of cars and buses will take off from every city, town and village in Serbia to Belgrade, or more precisely, a part of it called Dedinje, where Milosevic’s house is. That’s at least one million people knocking on his door trying to get some answers.

And if I can somehow find a ride, I’ll be one of them.

Another blackout is due in about half an hour, and I still have some work to do (printing banners for tonight’s rally), so I gotta go. I’m sort of in a hurry…

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!

Millennium, Schmillennium

“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?

Sparking trouble

After the war nothing seems to be as exciting as the air raids, but there are some stories that everybody has been talking about this week. For example, a 17-year-old has been killed by a runaway flair at a football match between the two biggest teams (and rivals) in Serbia (one of the two Yugoslav republics). The person who fired the flair is a fan of the same team as the person he killed, but the stadium in which the incident happened belongs to the opposite one. So, both clubs will probably get penalised – one for not controlling its fans, the other for bad security.

This accident will probably have great implications in England, too. The same day the incident took place, a UEFA inspector was in Montenegro (the second part of Yugoslavia) to see if conditions are good enough for a match to be held between England and Yugoslav teams in the European Under-21 Cup. England want the match to be played elsewhere, saying that their players would be in danger, that all of the stadiums are bad, and that there are no flights to Yugoslavia, so they couldn’t even reach it. But, there are air flights to Montenegro, and the stadium is, in the words of a UEFA inspector, “quite satisfactory, apart for some minor details”. However, he said that before the flair accident occurred, and it’s very likely now that the English will step up their campaign to move the match to a different (neutral) location, or even cancel it all together and disqualify Yugoslavia.

So you really have to feel for the guy who fired that flair. He brought it to the match thinking it would probably be taken away at the entrance, but if it wasn’t and that it would be great to fire it when his team scores. And now he’s ended up killing a person, turning the whole Yugoslav nation against him and being threatened with a life sentence (and that’s what some people have been calling for) not only because of the murder, but because of ruining Yugoslavia’s chances in the Under-21 European Cup. And it’s all thanks to an unknown Chinese man who made a mistake while working on the flair.
It would be great if the only problems we had here in Serbia were like that.

However, there are far more pressing issues on everybody’s minds – like what will we do when we only have six hours of electricity a day this winter, and no gas or oil for heating. Right now, school classes are 30 minutes long (that’s 15 minutes less than before), and it’s not even that cold. So everyone is asking how long they’ll last when it’s below zero degrees in the classroom. Last year, both teachers and students started a general strike but back then at least the state could afford some fuel for it’s power stations and they eventually gave in. Now it would be a wonder if it could get enough power for hospitals and government buildings, never mind classrooms.

The Russians, with their enormous supplies of gas, would like to help. The problem is, the gas pipe is running through Hungary. The Hungarian government asked Yugoslavia to clear up the Danube river, which is blocked by the ruins of bridges destroyed in the bombing, or even let Hungary clear it up free of charge. That way, normal trade routes would be reestablished, and Hungary, along with other Danube countries, would stop loosing a lot of money. However, the Yugoslav government, for an unknown reason, won’t let Hungary do that, and now it’s a stalemate – no money for Hungary, no gas for Yugoslavia (or should I say Serbia). So, everyone is preparing for the winter and the most sought after commodities these days are old-fashioned oil lamps, coal stoves and coal. We are entering the year 2000 like it’s 1900 – just like the computers.

One year on

This is a rather unfortunate time for me to write an article. The reason is simple – just look at the date.
While I’m usually allowed to – and more often than not do – write whatever sounds interesting or which I can make fun of (who said Slobodan Milosevic?), I’m now expected to say something important about that little 78-day incident we had exactly a year ago. But if there is a single most unsuitable person for that job in whole of Serbia, it’s me.

An exaggeration? Probably. But on a 1-10 scale of unsuitableness, I’m pretty close to being a nine. The reason for that is simple: the experience of war I had was one per cent of perspiration (watching up at the sky for those tomahawks all night can be exhausting, not to mention how much cold sweat one can break while bombs are falling less than three miles away), and 99 per cent of watching TV.

The few weeks without electricity don’t really fit into the ‘war’ category. God knows we had a lot worse power cuts before as well as after, as he very well knows the reason for those power cuts are more of an economical than a technical problem (money from those few million kilowatts sold to your neighbors can go a very long way).

And that 99 per cent of TV war didn’t look much like a war anyway. You had Jamie Shea with his little pearls of wisdom: “NATO makes the same precautions of not hurting civilians during the day as it does during the night.” – a day after more than 20 people had been killed in two separate daytime strikes on a town bridge.
And the never-before-seen-on-national-television spin doctoring of Ken Bacon: “The day before that passenger train was hit we had reports of Yugoslav fight jets taking off in that part of Serbia.”
Reporter: “So that means the Yugoslavs attacked their own train?”
Ken: “We simply don’t know that yet.” (15 minutes before admitting on that very same conference that a NATO jet was the culprit, making the campaign look more like another well known scandal of the year before that than a serious humanitarian action).

And while I’m at it I should add ‘humanitarian my ass!’ Eight months after it all ended I guess even Ray Charles can see why. Three days into the campaign a Sky News reporter said that just a trickle of refugees is coming trough at that time, but that more is expected later that week. If the great Albanian exodus was the reason for the bombing, then why is it only four days after the bombing began that it actually started? You could say that the cleansing would begin anyway, NATO or no NATO, but can you deny that the campaign was a very big, if not the biggest factor in when the cleansing would start?

I’m using the word ‘cleaning’ because that’s what it was. Milosevic wanted to get rid of the Albanians while there were no international verifiers in Kosovo. But whose fault was it that those verifiers left the are under the pretence of safety precautions? Could it possibly be… NATO? If little Timmy (i.e. Sloba, not Serbia) has an affinity for performing vivisection on his pets you don’t fire the nanny for fear of Timmy vivisecting her – she’s the only barrier between him and Fido. And why do you then agonize over the pet’s fait when you’re almost as responsible as Timmy is for it getting killed. Of course the little brat should be institutionalized, but why whip him for 78 consecutive days while keeping him locked up in a dark moldy basement when the only thing that’s going to do is deepen his psychosis?

I hope you don’t misunderstand that last paragraph. I don’t think Albanians are dogs, far from it. At least they’re smarter than the Serbs and the west. Heck, they were the only ones who actually gained something from the war with almost no material losses, so if they were the dogs, it would make us, you and me both, well, the intellectual, dogie poo… Not that some of us aren’t.

At least that’s what my brain felt like through most of the war days. Wake up at 11am, translate the Brits’ press conference to the family, log on to yahoo chat and spread a few patriotic words to the ignorant people of Bahrain (I’m not joking). Then translate Shea’s great words to his admirers (again, I’m not joking, he had a fan club of sorts here), reply to some email messages, watch a few TV reports on the bombsite-of-the-day, spread some more patriotism to the third world nations, repeat until 4am with some interruptions from those noisy F-15s and tomahawks and their even noisier cargo, then go to bed. 78 days of terror? It was more like 78 days of bullshit to me.

But I shouldn’t really complain. The Internet was free, and so was almost everything else, phone, gas, electricity – everything. Not that there was much of either after NATO started hitting the power plants anyway. It was all reading after that, from back issues of National Geographic to the good old domestic literature. By the time I read every book in my library, and it’s by no means a small library, Sloba decided he had enough. And even though the Yugoslav officials held everyone under suspense until the very last moments under that tent in Macedonia, everybody here knew we had lost well before it was officially announced. A Montenegrin newspaper summed it up the best with it’s gigantic front page headline following the talks between Sloba and Viktor Chernomyrdin – ‘Capitulation’. Strong words? Perhaps, but we all got used to them in the past ten years – it wasn’t the first and very passing day it seems more likely that it won’t be our last.

Finally, I’d like to dedicate this particular article to all the people who made this gruesome ordeal be a much more pleasant experience. They are, in the order in which they pop into my mind and with a lot of spelling errors: John Simpson of the BBC and Tim Marshall from Sky, Francis Tusa, Paul Beaver and Duncan Boullivant – Sky’s commentators, Nick Gowing – one of the few BBC anchors with a personality, Simon McCoy, Key Burleigh, Jeremy Thompson, Viviane Creeger, Bob Friend, Anna Botting, Frank Partridge, Sheila Jansen, and many others from Sky, Mark Laity – the king of bias, Keith Graves – a close second at first, becoming very objective all of a sudden, Jaime Shea, George Robertson, Claire Short, Kenneth Bacon and all the others who had their five minutes of squirming in front of the cameras trying to explain one cock up after another…

I hope the only time they mention Serbia again will be in announcing a certain politician’s untimely, but nevertheless totally deserved, death. At least I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Bye, and have a great weekend,


Is it a man’s world?

You could say that Serbia’s women get the worse part of the national and religious holidays, customs and superstitions, and at first glance it really does look like that.

In some parts of the world – the developed ones – the ones the regime wants us to think we’re a part of and fight against at the same time… they have a day when mothers get presents from their children. Serbia doesn’t.

Actually, we do have Mothers Day here, although it’s not quite the same – you get to tie up their hands and feet while they’re asleep and don’t release them until they give you money.

At least that’s how it looked a hundred years ago, because now you can’t have both – you either have the joy of tying her up or you must repress your sadistic needs and get a few dinars for it (wow, this sounds… strange, but it’s really not as brutal as it sounds… it’s quite fun, actually, for both mothers and children).

And on 14th of February, when the rest of the world celebrates St. Valentine’s and spends a small fortune on flowers, perfume and red lingerie, we have St. Tribune’s day. He was, and if you believe in afterlife, the protector of wine, so on that day everyone gets to see if “In vino veritas” has any real truth in it, all for free. Needless to say, most of the people who have any real desire to check that out are men.

But anybody who says that women are mistreated here didn’t hear of the “International Women’s Day” we have on March 8th. I don’t know how international it is – I never heard it mentioned anywhere else – but I honestly hope for the sake of all the men in the world it stays confined to this country’s boundaries.

You don’t have to buy a present just for your mother or wife or whatever (pardon, whoever) you’re in a relationship with, you get the honour of making every single woman you know happy that day. “By giving gifts”, I should add, before anybody starts thinking the whole of Serbia turns into one great big red light district.

And it’s not only that, because you then have to treat them like gods – they have shorter work hours, they don’t get traffic violation tickets, they get to go on shopping tours. There’s no law that gives them all those rights, but it’s just not polite to mistreat a woman on that day, or so it’s thought.

It would all be bearable if gift items kept their normal price, but just like anywhere else in the world, the weather this year was bad, the temperatures were low, we got a lot of radiation from the bombing – Nature, God and the NATO alliance, all conspired to get the price of flowers in Serbia to record heights.

This year, however, there was some unexpected help from none other than the Chinese. Now, even if your knowledge of geography is limited to knowing which way is left and which is right, you can probably tell that China is a very long way from here, making the fact that every town here with a population larger than 10,000 has a Chinatown all the more mysterious.

It’s not like they’ve been populating the area for years. Two or three years ago some people here didn’t even know what a Chinese looked like, but after the “mistaken” Chinese embassy bombing they’re everywhere, setting up markets in junk warehouses, abandoned parking lots and old bookstores (Books and school supplies? Bah! Fire crackers and highly toxic super glue is what this country’s youth really needs.)

Even if Yugoslavia’s foreign minister brought back a few hundred Chinese (as souvenirs?) every time he got back from his official trips to China, which are by now measured in dozens, several thousands of them currently working in Serbia would still be left unaccounted for.

Are they a secret army acting as one of the last lines of China’s defence against a possible NATO attack, or have the Chinese economic planners got it so wrong to think of Serbia as a new and potentially booming market?

Actually, it’s neither. They are anything but stupid, so what we get of their goods is only what they can’t sell to Romania or Bulgaria, who get what they can’t sell in Russia, who get the things they can’t sell in their own country, and to their own people they give what they can’t sell in the US, which is junk anyway.

So basically, what we’re buying from them is like the tasteless muck you get when trying to make tea from the same tea bag for the sixth time, and the really sad part is that most of it is still better than most of what we used to get.

And who’s to blame? Or should I ask which member of the Milosevic family got his or hers present two days ago? And then I could rephrase it to ‘who actually wears the pants in that family anyway?’. I’ll give you a hint – it’s not Sloba. When four years ago Serbia’s opposition won the local elections, Slobodan Milosevic said to his cabinet they should accept the results because it was a good thing, giving them a challenge for the upcoming federal elections. But then he had a chat with his wife Mira, and the next day the results were annulled. Their former friends said, with a special accent given to the adjective ‘former’, that there was a lot of china flying around that night in their house.

And while he was in Dayton negotiating on that peace accord (now failing miserably in Bosnia), he left his hosts with a giant phone bill he made calling Mira every night. And every time an important decision was about to be made, he was sending her kisses and pet names like Pumpkin right there in front of the most revered diplomats in the world.

Now doesn’t that bring it all into perspective? Unfortunately, nobody’s there to tell Mira that her little holiday is an insult to Serbia’s women, giving them more trouble than it’s worth. A new name for that day comes to mind – “Ok, you’ll all be goddesses for this one day, but boy will you get crap from us during the rest of the year just to be even”. A pleasure / pain thing…

A pot-shot at the International Community

You know, every time I write one of these column things I feel almost responsible to put in something bad about the government, RTS, Milosevic & co, the lot. It’s not that they don’t deserve every single bit of, err, constructive criticism they get from me, but there’s only so many times one can bad-mouth a government without starting to repeat himself. That doesn’t mean, however, that the flow of negative thoughts on these pages will stop; only now it’s time for the “so-called” “international community” (strike out the quote marks you don’t like).
So, after watching and reading about what your people are doing in, ahem, “Serbia’s southern province”, I’ve got to say that they are just as irresponsible, immature and, oh yes, stupid as that set over there in Belgrade. Only yours are considerate enough not to do anything bad to the people who voted them into power, which means you’re safe, but it’s a whole different story when little old Serbia, with or without Kosovo, is concerned. And it’s not only Serbia.

Of course, looking back over the previous few years of wars, crisis and revolutions one could maybe say that those events were, and still are, just too bizarre not to be masterminded and controlled by some higher X-files-like high powered authority we know nothing of, which either knows or controls the fate of the world, and which probably goes by the name of “the international community”. And in a way it would be comforting to know that at least somebody on this planet, bad intentioned or not, understands how this civilisation works.

But sadly, if you examine the inner workings of the
“international community” more closely, you’ll se that almost all that’s bad in this world is not caused by a twisted mind of a person in the shadow, but by sheer stupidity of people in the spotlight, people we all know and – although not necessarily – love. Because the international community is nothing more than a set of bumbling idiots who 1) never have long-term plans and goals, 2) don’t even think about what the history will have to say about them in 200 years or so from now and 3) think their greatest achievement in resolving a conflict is getting two parties to sign a piece of paper. I should maybe change the part under 1) a bit. They do have this general idea of what the future should be like, but “world peace” and “no more wars” are general ideals more suited to pre-schoolers than the “leaders of the free world” as they call themselves.

Ok, they’re consistent; I’ll give them that. They said two years ago “The Serbs are bad” and “We like the Albanians. The Albanians are our friends”, and they’re still sticking to that. But let’s see what happened in the meantime, shall we? More than 80% of the Serbs left Kosovo because, and I’m not trying to be a part of Sloba’s propaganda machine here, Albanian extremists either burned their houses down or threatened them. It would be OK if they only did it to Serb extremists. Hey, I’m all for it. Get them to come here and we’ll deal with them in courts when Sloba’s out of power. But a difference should be made between 5% of Serb extremists, and 95% of the rest of the population.
I could even, maybe, perhaps, after a long brainwash; understand why the intcom tolerated the Albanian extremists in that respect. There was a war, some Serbs did bad things – the collective guilt thing. But why, oh why, did those very same extremists who just a year ago said that the Serbs hate them only because they were of different ethnic group, then drive away the Gypsies who had absolutely no part in the war. Could it possibly be because the Gypsies are (dramatic pause here) a different ethnic group?

And if that weren’t enough, NATO itself had a lot of problems with some Albanian extremists. Do I even have to mention Mitrovica? I’ll just recap on some of the mishaps NATO had with them there in past two weeks: a bus from Serbia blown up by a land mine, a couple of NATO soldiers shot dead by snipers, Albanian citizens (and I’m not talking only extremists) still having weapons in their homes, a few massive riots with more than a dozen soldiers getting hurt as the direct result of them, the same amount of Serbian houses set on fire, a few thousand Serbs less in Mitrovica, and to top it all of – a gun stolen not from a rookie fresh out of the academy, but from the KFOR commander Klaus himself, and still not returned.

So, why does the intcom tolerate it? Well, for the very same reason Tony Blair was so hawkish about a ground war – neither of them wants to look bad on TV. It would be hilarious seeing George Robertson, Cook, Clinton, or Blair standing in front of TV cameras and beginning their speech with “Remember those Albanian refugees…? Well… we’re no longer friends.” Of course, the question of why they took the Albanians’ side in the first place is a whole different, and a lot longer, story. But I must admit most of this is just sour grapes syndrome, because if I had to choose between a leadership with a bad foreign policy and one with no policy whatsoever, guess which one would be my pick.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: The author of this text is in no way funded and / or supported and does not fund and / or support the RTS, the Socialist party, Slobodan Milosevic, and / or any other part of the Serbian government. In fact, as far as the author of this text is concerned, all of them would have been arrested, prosecuted, jailed and / or buried alive by now.

Another bizarre week

Strange things happened in Serbia this week – the government started election talks with the opposition, crime and entertainment, not politics, took over the TV screens, the first November snow in almost 20 years began to fall, and – the biggest mystery of all – there’s no longer a shortage of gas and electricity. To most people, all of this wouldn’t seem so related… but, of course, it is.
It all starts with the unusual weather the whole region has had this month – sub-zero temperatures, continuous rain, and sometimes even sleet and snow are not too common here in late November. With low temperatures comes the need for more power and heat, and if neither of them is available, which was the case just a few days ago, the people are unhappy. And if you have regular federal and local elections scheduled for the following spring, it doesn’t pay to have the voters mad at you because of “small” things such as how many of their friends and relatives froze to death.

So, what you have to do is provide a bare minimum of gas and power the country needs to survive a month without cuts and shortages – by pleading for help from “friendly” countries such as Russia, the Czech Republic and Greece. Then, you schedule the elections for just before you run out of electricity and heat, which will happen in early February, for there is certainly not enough to last trough the whole of the winter. And finally, if possible, you avert the attention of the people you are manipulating with less important events by giving them more entertainment on TV. The voters would then, in theory, think that things are not as bad as they’ve been told they would be by the opposition, and their votes would in turn go to the government – for doing such a good job of restoring the country after the war.

But, if there is no such thing as a perfect crime, there is also no such thing as a perfect election-manipulation scheme – and this example only proves it. It’s main flaw? It’s already been done. Of course, not at such a grand scale, but the basic elements of it has been seen many times before. The elderly, who are the biggest voters of the party in power – the SPS, get their pensions (which are more than three months late… “but as long as they’re there, who’s counting?!”), more roads, bridges, schools and factories are built in a month than in the previous two years combined, and phone and electricity bills are suddenly cut by a quarter. The only problem is, come post election celebrations, things are just where they were a month before the elections, so the people (and the opposition) have all to often had an opportunity to learn what happens when you do listen to the government’s promises. All in all – it’s yet another big mess the government has got itself into, dragging the rest of the country along for the ride.

A side effect of the government’s effort to give more entertainment to the masses is the fact that many important things, which are not related to either politics or daily survival, go unnoticed. For example, just released data has shown that the numbers of skinhead-related crimes have risen dramatically this year.

One reason for that is the “change of policy” that most of the white supremacy groups have accepted. They are no longer attacking only the gypsies, the only “coloured” ethnical minority of the 22 that Serbia has. Instead, they have shifted their tactics to attacking everyone who gets in their way, which, because skinheads usually do their rounds at night, basically means everyone who works the open-air night shifts – like garbage men, taxi drivers, prostitutes and the homeless.

Another reason for expanding neo-nazism is that the new members of white supremacy groups are getting younger and younger, the youngest registered being only 12, which means they have more and more members every month, doubling and even tripling in size in the last year, along with other such groups, like religious sects. However, there are too many bad experiences with fighting the skinheads for the public to accept another effort by the police. Just a few days ago, a 13-year-old was charged with intentionally knocking his gypsy teacher unconscious while they were trying to get into a bus. There was a relatively big media campaign in favor of giving him more than five years in prison, which was supported by the government. However, it turned out that a different student accidentally pushed the teacher out of the bus, and that the teacher lied about being unconscious only to get more media attention. Needles to say the charges were dropped, and the public started considering all such incidents, most of which are really connected to skinheads, as overblown.

But, the public gets it right most of the times. The government’s statements of “the great rebuilding of the country” are overblown. The public knows that. Statements from Russia, Greece and other “friendly” countries that they will help us no matter what, are overblown. The public knows that as well. When the opposition says that the government will fall in less than a month – it’s overblown. And, guess what, the public knows it. The only thing the public doesn’t know is what the hell is happening around them. Too many trees, too little forest – so easy to manipulate. The skinheads, the religious sects and other such groups know it… and so does the government.