The joke’s on us

If ever there was a time when the whole of Serbia and it’s people looked like one big cartoon, this is it. I’ll just quote the Cartoon Network’s ‘Two stupid dogs’ show: “Now ain’t that cute… but it’s wrong!”

If somebody had told me at the beginning of March that Serbia had no opposition, I’d just think that person had watched one Socialist Party broadcast too many last month, when Slobodan Milosevic said just that.

After all, just a few days earlier, all the opposition party leaders had generally agreed there should be an anti government rally somewhere around March 9, exactly nine years after the first ever street protest against Milosevic. They had also said there’ll be a unified election list in case only local one-round winner-takes-all elections were held. And, most importantly, there wasn’t a hint of animosity between them when they held a joint press conference to announce all that to the media and the public.

But now, two weeks, no rallies, but plenty of confusing opposition’s statements later, things don’t look so good. The opposition leaders simply look too uninterested to do anything substantial against the government, and God knows they had plenty of opportunity for action. For every independent TV station that gets closed and every independent newspaper that gets fined, another freedom-of-speech and change-the-media-law statement rolls out of the opposition machinery. But statements don’t bring governments down, and they certainly won’t get you elections, not to mention get you elected. And when will the rally be held? “March is a long month”, said one of the leaders, “there’s plenty of time”. No comment.

But, unfortunately, that’s not all because the opposition doesn’t look so unified anymore. You won’t hear that in the official press releases and news conferences, but there is still some distrust, hatred even, between the two major opposition leaders, Vuk Draskovic and Zoran Djindjic. Not as much as a year, or even six months ago, but enough for the two of them not to have a joint list, and enough to ruin the opposition’s chances of winning local elections. At least for another four years.

It’s easy to get a ‘Friend of the Serbs’ status. You have to be a foreigner, publish a few crappy books no one will ever read (preferably poetry and philosophy), promote some of them in Serbia itself, and then hold a press conference about how the world treats Serbia like dirt. Knowing Milosevic’s son Marko is desirable, but not necessary. You won’t exactly get a “Friend Of” membership card and a complimentary bumper sticker, but everybody here will love you, you’ll be invited as a guest for numerous chat shows and you’ll get free food and drink in almost every restaurant. Women will want to marry you (even if you do look like the ugly twin brother of Quasimodo), men will envy you for having a harem of celebrity mistresses, and all of them will want to name their children after you (unless, of course, your name is Tony or Bill).

Ok, some of those people genuinely support Serbia, and some of them do have some good books behind them. But boy did they choose the wrong bunch of people to hang out with. And the only thing they actually do, besides holding the above mentioned press conference where they explain to Serbs how maltreated they, is to provide the you-know-what with enough ammo when somebody says that Serbia has no real allies in the west.

By ‘Friends’ I don’t mean only people. There are plenty of countries and organizations willing to help us. But could somebody please tell me what to do with ten kilos of near-rotten oranges from Greece, now that there’s no longer a flu epidemic? Or five kilos of Polish spaghetti made ten years ago? And they didn’t give us all that during the bombing or after the flood. They waited for spring. It’s 20 degrees outside and prices of oranges are five times lower than what they’ve been during the flu season. Well, thanks anyway, at least we know you care.

The media here suck. Not just RTS, not just the government controlled newspapers, but the whole lot – Draskovic’s Studio B, Djindjic’s small regional TV stations, and many other magazines and TV studios which technically are independent but have a rather obvious ideological inclining. The first lesson an RTS journalist has to learn is how to stuff as many phrases like ‘the extended hand of NATO alliance’ or ‘foreign spies and domestic traitors’ into a report on the actions of the opposition. The first lesson an ‘independent’ one must master is how to criticize the government for Belgrade being the coldest city in Europe that day.

But I guess the opposition media does have a tougher time in here right now, especially with an ultra nationalist Vojislav Seselj in charge of the media and information laws. The two most read anti-government newspapers were ordered a few days ago by the state officials, who quoted a non existent paragraph of the media law, to lower their prices, and in turn operate with massive losses, which would eventually lead to their closure.

What did they do to fight back? Well, nothing. Okay, they did print this small notice on the front page saying how they’ll be out of business if they don’t go against the government’s decision and raise the price, causing sympathy of readers everywhere, but that won’t get them back from the dead now, will it? And the people who’d feel sympathy for them are the very same people who felt sorry for Arkan’s wife, Ceca, when she lost her husband and gained millions (both of which are not that bad) so their sympathy wouldn’t do much to bust the moral. Oh well, another one bites the dust.

But I want to end this on a positive note, and what better way to do it than using the very same thing Serbia is right now – a joke. “When will this country get better? When the time comes for Ceca the widow to explain to Marko the orphan who killed Vuk during Seselj’s funeral.” One down, four to go.