Jerko Bakotin, born 1984 in Split, graduated in Sociology and Comparative Literature from the University of Zagreb. Between 2008 and 2011 he worked as a full-time journalist at the Zagreb office of political daily Novi list. Since 2011 he has been a freelance journalist, writing mostly for Novosti, the political weekly of Croatia’s Serb minority, the web portals kulturpunkt and Lupiga, as well as other media. He has published several literary reviews, essays and travelogues in culture magazines such as Zarez and Quorum, and has also written for German media such as Neues Deutschland and Deutsche Welle and worked with radio broadcasters in Croatia, creating, among others, a number of radio-documentaries about various countries.
Brotherhoods and Massacres
FIGURES ON THE HORIZON
“There’s going to be a war. That’s for sure”, says Sheh, writing his name down for me in the sand. Then he underlines it, falling silent.
“This can’t go on”, he adds after a few moments. We had slept a few hours in Smara, on the floor of a mud hut. Like the others, this camp is also named after a city the Sahrawis had been banished from: El-Aaiún, Aousserd, Smara and Dakhlah in the west all have their ghostly doubles here, in the Algerian territory adjacent to the border. At five in the morning we drank some coffee and ate some Eurokrem, and now we are waiting for over a hundred jeeps to gather. We are in the midst of the hell that is the hamada, a depressing rocky wasteland with temperatures reaching 55 degrees Celsius. The nights are freezing, desert storms rage, and the infrequent rains will melt the homes, turning them into slush. The landscape is reduced to a nothingness, a cruel image of insanity.
“Could you live in this place?” he asks. “There’s nothing here. Nothing. No water, no animales, only rocks. No one could live here. Nor would we, but we were forced to”.
I say nothing. An infernal place, one of the worst on the planet. If there was but one injustice in the world, its name would be ‘Sahara’. I know, facts get in the way – but this heroic story is not the stuff of blockbusters: Franco’s falling into a coma, the chaos in Madrid and the retreat without the promised referendum on independence. A territory larger than Great Britain – inhabited by barely some hundred thousand people – was occupied by aggressors from the north and south, aided by the West. But the students – those fantasts – had already formed a movement whose miniature People’s Liberation Army traversed a thousand kilometers and attacked Nouakchott. Mauritania was cast out of the war, and hundreds of corpses now arrive in Rabat each month.
“I leave Smara, ten years old. If you got your aunt, your father on other side, you no can see him. No can speak to him”, continues Sheh. Then he falls silent once more. The white December sun rises over the hamada.
“Thirty-five years. No more”, he repeats. The king’s soldiers chopped off men’s fingers so they couldn’t carry arms, refugee lines were showered with napalm, and cities enclosed in barbed wire. Four fifths of El-Aaiún have supposedly gone into exile.
Here come Ahmed and another man: “Me llamo Ismael”. Flurrying around, there are Japanese and Russian TV crews, Gilberto, Germans, the Columbian professor Jerônimo, Aleš and his brother from Ljubljana, then my greased colleague Mustafa and others from Algeria. They are the most numerous – a country born in anti-colonial blood offers Polisario all the support: idealism and the struggle for hegemony in Maghreb. Among the Europeans, the most numerous – gnawed at by guilt – are the Spaniards. One can hear English, French, Portuguese, variations of Arabic, different African tongues, and the boisterous Angolan lad – once an engineering student during the Eastern Bloc era – speaks to me in Bulgarian. The Sahara is Babel.
The officer signals for departure. Ismael grabs the wheel and the Toyota growls, Ahmed and I riding shotgun, crammed together in the single seat. This avant-garde orchestra is joined by other engines, first one, then another, then dozens of them. The Slovenians sit in the back, the army of motors howls and so I take out my recorder and think to myself, this is going to be a great radio story. Ahmed flips through the channels and says, “do you know what’s with Vesna Zmijanac, are they both alive and well, her and Brena?”
“We’re on our way to kill Moroccans”, hollers Sheh and slams the door. Ismael steps on the gas.
* * *
It was a wondrous journey. Some hundred Toyotas, Nissans, Santanas and Land Rovers maniacally dash three hundred and fifty kilometers to the west: the landscape shifts, and we are no longer scraping the surface of Moon, but are instead crossing the yellow sandy sea spanning nine million square kilometers – ‘Sahara’ is simply the Arabic word for a desert, the archetype in which jeeps leave tracks like speedboats, raising a minor sandstorm. Only the bandannas over our mouths are keeping us from suffocation. Our Toyota plunges into holes, grinds and grumbles furiously, we eat dust; every once in a while, we bounce up in the car, collide then fall back down, hold on to our seats, bump our heads with a groan; the descendants of the nomads are surging, and me along with them, across this shoreless sea, in search of a state, in search of…
“Ahmed, is the Moroccan army strong?” I ask.
“Not exactly strong… They’ve never had a traditional army… Fighters, recruited common folk, the meanest men in the world… The Americans and the French are helping them… And still we managed to take guns and part of the territory away from them. They’re not an army… A proper one”, he replies. American tanks, French airplanes and cannons – Paris, the gendarme of Africa adorned with dozens of interventions – the armored cars of racist South Africa and Saudi petrodollars: Hollywood is armed and siding with the oppressors. Satellites, consultants, and CIA bases, a country now numbering thirty million against a tribe with a few hundred jeeps and rockets given by Algeria, Gadhafi, and the Cubans. The truce of ’91 – the occupying forces were given the cities, the mines with precious phosphates, and four fifths of the land. Polisario was given a promise of a referendum and a whole lot of sand.[…]
The engines are devouring kilometers and the flags are waving fiercely, I am preoccupied with the strumming of the R’n’B from the radio. We charge towards the west like Muhammad Ali, the entire phantom republic attacks in this surreal rally – a fuming caravan shrouded in clouds: entering Tifariti I only see the checkpoint and the armored car – I mean the Soviet BMP – almost nothing else can be made out through the dust. The setting sun shines a yellow light, the bouncing makes me bump my forehead against the windshield: “Why do you say ‘fuck the scorching sun’ in your language?” I am asked, the engine howls and screams, and the tank commander gestures victory with his fingers.
“Ahmed, is there going to be a war?”
“We gotta go to war, if no other solution. People want their freedom, you understand?”
Earlier, around noon, I stare at the watery surface on the horizon. I must have gone insane from the adrenaline and sleep deprivation, the bumping, the hypnotic music coming from the crackling speakers.
“Do you want to take a picture, should we stop?” hollers Sheh from the back seat. “when you approach it, it disappears, there’s nothing at the end” – he says. “It’s a mirage.”
In Tifariti we sup on rice and camel goulash.
* * *
“Viva el pueblo Saharaui, viva la revolución Cubana, viva la revolución bolivariana y todas las revoluciones del mundo!”, concludes the emissary from Venezuela. Representatives of the states which have recognized the Sahrawi Republic are speaking now, and the atmosphere is somewhat more electrified.
“Hasta la victoria siempre!” winds up the Cuban.
“Qué viva la lucha del pueblo Saharaui!” chants the Mexican. The whole thing looks like a VHS tape from the seventies. A revolution? I’d flown in from Berlin – the alternative leftie scene is strong, but a large portion of the mainstream youth consists of the mass of hipsters in Hawaiian shirts talking mainly on the subject of amphetamines, careers, and deep kissing, and the main problem seems to be the location of the next party. I have witnessed the liberal end of history in a club in Neukölln. Naked men sporting poodle fur sniff each other’s butts before the enchanted crowd, pretend to excrete brown bananas, and lather each other with chocolate. The current manifesto has only one point on the agenda – entertainment.
No, comrade, among the eighty-odd countries that have recognized Sahara there is not a single Western state. The International Court of Justice has long since ruled that the Sahrawis deserve self-determination, but the free democracies find it in their best interest to prefer a monarchy whose prisons conduct beatings with whips, chains, and metal rods, crushing with rocks, lashings on the soles of the feet – the so-calledfalaka, partial suffocation by submersion or by shoving rags drenched with bleach into the mouth, hanging the prisoners by the hands and feet tied up together behind the back and then hitting them – a method known as the “flying airplane”, hanging the prisoners by the hands and feet tied up together in the front, followed by beatings and suffocation – a procedure called the “parrot’s perch” or “roast chicken”.
Brilliant at liberation poetry is the representative of Nigeria, a roaring man with magical energy.
“Okay, when I say ‘Western Sahara’, you say ‘Hey’”, he opens like an MC. With this chant, he skillfully warms up his audience. There can be no negotiation about self-determination, he insists. Numbered among the delegates are those who have experienced poisoning, electric shocks and rape in the dungeons.
The speaker gets to the point in a nearly howling tone of voice.
“The Sahrawi people were winning the war when the Security Council reached the agreement on a truce and swindled you with promises.” Fist in the air, mouth open in a spasm, finger pointing. The deep voice commanding the entire space, electrifying the accumulated trauma.
“Considering that Morocco and the allies, Western allies – Spain, France, America, all of them! – are obstructing the referendum, it’s time you went back to the trenches and fought for liberty!”
The hall is ablaze with exhilaration – applause, whistling, yelling from hundreds of throats, “warmongering speech” – cries into my ear a bewildered female German activist. The fiercest reactions are from the youth born in the camps, where nearly half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage owing to malnutrition. Rage on their faces, gesturing, clenched fists, the fluid gratification that is the rebellion of the scorned. A sweet excitement and a warmth in the body, the scent of smoke in the nostrils. Reality is brewing, and dreams gush forth from the cracks.
“Si el presente es de lucha, el futuro es nuestro!” exclaims a hefty man standing by my side. A cigar and a wide, confident smile. I rub my eyes as I look upon Comrade Guevara. Behind him I can already see Fanon, then it’s Zapata waving his sombrero, and Luther King is yelling “I have a dream!” Leading the file is Thomas Sankara, the man who vaccinated and fed millions, and changed the colonial name Upper Volta into Burkina Faso – the Land of Upright People, and persecuted the opposition with revolutionary justice. Storming against debt, annoying the French, he ended up liquidated in a coup. Behind him now marches an entire procession of dead revolutionaries, joyfully stepping towards justice and liberty one by one.
“Long live the Sahrawi people! Long live the peoples of Africa!” howls the Nigerian.
This must have been how Kapuściński was feeling while Nkrumah was declaring the independence of Ghana, the first former African colony: this is the closest I’ll get to that. I go out and light a cigarette. A positive charge and a certain horror under the skin.
Aren’t I being naïve? Demagoguery is a simple matter. But revolution is here a bloody thirst for life! Objectivity? To Kapuściński, a journalist cannot be an indifferent witness. The fundamentals of the job are empathy and identification. So-called objective journalism, according to him, leads to disinformation. I have also always used my imagination to feel people out, to taste their terror and their hopes – however – do they really believe in…? The walls turn into rubber, reality is torn, and onto the wet ground pour my malaise, my revulsion, my pain at losing my senses. I cast a furtive glance inside. The murdered revolutionaries lie with their boots on, flies gather on their eyes, vultures sit on their uniforms. King’s tie in a puddle of blood. I rub my eyes once more. Perhaps I’m projecting it all, finally, I am familiar with the terror of living in a parallel. In their reality psychosis is a means of survival.
Sheh joins me. I’ve run out of cigarettes, he offers me his pack.
“If Congress decides in favor of war…” I open.
“We’re gonna win. For sure”.
“Kulu el Vatan avi Shahada!” reaches us from within.
“What are they chanting?”
“Hmmm… Something like ‘Fatherland whole or death’”.
Every single state in the world stinks. That’s not my thought, it’s Rolland’s, but – I’ve embraced it.
Give me a kiss to build a dream on, sings Louis in my head, the soundtrack from a time consumed by playing Fallout. Behind us are the Hamsa-Hamsa checkpoint and the phone call necessary to keep snipers from killing us. All around us are ruins, rebars stick out from the concrete rubble, Mars-like craters, orange earth overgrown with grass, not a single dog in sight. We trek through the ominous wasteland towards the eight-meter wall, the watchtowers, the laser-activated guns and the cage-rimmed pathway. A hypnotic silence. We stand in front of the door for perhaps a full minute, then the steel door noiselessly slides sideways, a hallway and white neon lights, then another door. Round eyes are gazing at us, Space Odyssey, the icy villain Hal. Place your belongings on the table, orders the voice from the loudspeaker. Out of thin air appears a worker – the only animate life form – who takes out our equipment and offers it to the greedy electronic eyes. The next room. Our luggage placed on a conveyor belt, we enter the capsule with our arms spread out, scanners are blinking. Searching for bombs. After an hour and a half, we pass through a terminal as large as an airport, and the policewoman stamps our passports for exit. We have no entry stamps, a day spent in nowhere. When we go into the world and see how free people live – Ibrahim’s words echo in my mind –we realize we are not part of humanity. Private guards are in the parking place. Black uniforms, metallic sunglasses, automatic rifles in their hands. The road to Ashkelon, the familiar taxi driver, immigrant from Russia: Skoljka? Fallout, it means radioactive rain. A post-apocalyptic age.
* * *
“Last weekend three brothers were killed”, the diggers told us the previous day. An F-16 hit the tunnel with a rocket and killed the first, while the other two suffocated in Sulfur dioxide. The yellow earth and a few palm trees, the large indigo tents are concealing the damned entrances. All around, rusty steel barrels and piles of dug earth are scattered. Across the road are the Egyptian watchtowers.
“Don’t take pictures of them”, warns Sami, our charming and resourceful guide. The young lads, these moles digging in the underground, receive some twenty euros for ten hours of their daily labor. They have been digging the tunnel, at this time between five hundred and a thousand meters long – and some thirty meters deep – for several months now. Several weeks from now it will be destroyed, then a new trench will be dug some ten meters away, always carefully avoiding the wall built beneath the ground. Rafah is an underworld, an anthill in which workmen circulate, and the younger and slighter they are, the better. They have a good underground there, I recall the words of a Western imbecile from the bars of Damascus.
Sami is negotiating, gesturing towards the void, the narrow and decrepit metal ladder. One foot at a time, eyes fixed on the wall, getting closer and closer to fear. The cavern is illuminated with powerful lightbulbs and the reluctance of smiling diggers, a sweet photograph. We walk at first upright, then hunched, and finally we breathe the hot air sprayed with gasoline crawling on our hands and knees. No big man can dig tunnels. The end of the unfinished tunnel, no supporting beams. The surrounding rocks are deteriorating, sand is crumbling from the ceiling onto our heads. If they start bombing, we’ll remain buried alive here, the final curiosity in a necropolis. Then they try to dig through to the next tunnel. Some actually make it, the guide had told us before we entered. Through these tunnels pass motors, fridges, fuel, flour, clothes, diapers… If everything works out, the owner makes a thousand dollars a day. A light humming of the electric engine, the cable drags us out onto the surface. Anticipation on the faces, Sami furtively signals. A folded banknote, we, the vultures, purchase the scent of death.
* * *
The airstrip is furrowed by caterpillar tracks, in the VIP building there are holes the size of tow trucks. Ornaments created by grenades. We stare in amazement, this is Mad Max, objects are liberated from their roles. A yellow dome – similar to the one from Temple Mount – watches over the ghostly airport. The destruction seems even more obscene because everything is brand new. Yasser Arafat was destroyed upon the breaking out of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, several years after its construction. Sons of bigshots use the runway to ride badass motorbikes, perform acrobatics, acting out their bombed youth.
“Only those whose folks work for Hamas or the Palestinian Administration can afford it”. Recently, the wall towards Egypt was penetrated, a crowd rushed to purveyance, desperados on bikes returned. The unreal backdrop is painted with ruins, and the vague glow of the setting sun.
Pffft! – pffft! – pffft! – a dull burst of gunfire suddenly tears through the image.
“Let’s go!” howls Sami, we slam the doors in a panic, and Yusuf floors the gas pedal. The gunshots sound unreal, almost like the clicking of a toy. When shots are fired in the Middle East, they are fired to kill. Lie on the floor, and then get the hell out of there. Only fools play heroes, we recall the directions received from the Reuters cameraman. We stare into empty space, listen to the silence, look at Sami.
“I don’t know if they were actually shooting at us, or just warning us not to go any nearer. And I have no intention of finding out.”
Death seems to be as trite as a plastic toy gun.
* * *
Ibrahim, a professor at the UN school. “A million and a half people cramped into 360 square kilometers… This is actually a very small prison”. A quick drink on the Palm Beach terrace. “The average family has six or seven children. Everything is a problem, a job, a place to live…” His moist eyes tell the most insidious tale. “My wife has cancer. I can’t take her out of here, to go to Egypt, for treatment. The hospitals in Gaza don’t even have aspirin”.
I ascend to my room, go out on the balcony. I gaze at the enormous tortured city, the tens of thousands of crumpled, unfinished and damaged buildings, the sky which is here painted over with yellow explosions, black smoke, and rocket tracks more often than people outside see such images in movies. I see the children Ibrahim goes to teach every day, in a school without paper or pencils. I imagine him coming home at night and hanging up his coat. He strokes his wife on the head, then lies beside her and silently – utterly soundlessly – weeps. My entire existence is a clown spoiled rotten, a frivolous whim in a void. A search for a spectacle.
I walk to the bathroom and crouch next to the open toilet. For several minutes I unblinkingly observe its bottom in which – first ferociously, then ever more placidly – large, brown insects with long tentacles are desperately attempting to save themselves from drowning.
KOSOVO UNDER CONSTRUCTION / A SADNESS
A GENEALOGY OF RACISM
The historical narrative is merely dead factography, cramming without experience. I do have some personal experiences in Albanian parts, however, mostly from the summer school I attended in Tetovo some ten years ago. During the return trip from Ohrid my fellow travelers on the bus stoned me. Their nationality is unknown to me, and also unimportant. Grown demonic from the wine and naked to the waist, I blather my hotheaded tales with my followers, standing – as there are no available seats – in the aisle between the seats. The co-driver invests a great deal of effort and counsel to prevent an incident, but I am not to be sidetracked: fooling around is more intoxicating than the booze.
“Shame on you”, only the grannies are rejoining under their breath, and then the discontent slowly grows into an avalanche. The situation in the bus is complex, I realize, unfortunately too late, as dozens of inimical pairs of eyes lash us silently. A bully rips the bottle from my hand and throws it out the window, for several seconds I can portend pain in his eyes, and then the driver leaps and opens the door for me: “Run!” A mob chases us, earth flies under our feet, pebbles disperse. The lynching attempt ends after we have run back to campus.
A couple of days later a Kosovar by the name of Frasher breaks my arm during a soccer game. I know nothing about footie, and I have traumas dating all the way back to elementary school, when I used to regularly stare at the ground on the field, because the team I was assigned to invariably had to also get the two best players in order to at least partially compensate for the handicap. I also remember that the nationalists have a fondness for Croats. A group of unpleasantly wasted students forced me into a huddle while they bellowed “We hate the Serbs!” and then “Agim Çeku!”, and on the grounds of my origins I also received free entry into the amusement park. The town pubs were segregated, and the Albanians were complaining that the judges and the coppers were mostly Macedonians. On the other hand, a member of the Skopje Philharmonic explained to me that these were all savage tribes.
There were amazing stories as well. I made friends with a lad named Festim, meaning “party” in Croatian. An elderly cab driver by the name of Đelo drove me to Šar Mountain for free, despite his suspicions that my friend was in fact a Serbian woman, that one time when upon returning I noticed a tall naval man, the spitting image of Corto Maltese, with a five-pointed star in the mural of the Historical Museum in Tirana. The Director of the campus in which we were staying took out a bottle of cognac from under his desk, and the then mayor – now prime minister – painter Edi Rama had the buildings dyed in colorful patterns, giving the city a psychedelic air. In Shkodra, a waiter referred to the mosque as a tourist building.
But even earlier, even before my witty roommate from the campus on Cvjetni told me that his father – an amateur boxer – had been forced out of the kebab business by the “Shqip mafia”, before I can pronounce blood vengeance and irredenta, even before we were laughing at the candyman from Marmont Street, who would shove a scoop of ice-cream into the cone, and then – pretending to refer to the molten chocolate – ask: “Would you like me to dip it in for you?” Somewhere back in first grade, in the school then still called “The Mosor Partisans”, I learned that “Shqiptar” is an insult of a very special flavor, a synonym for a moron of someone wearing cheap clothing bought in the Split marketplace. ‘Chetnik’ was certainly a more sinister swearword, but – despite the invocation of death – somehow more intimate, familial. Shqiptar carried the connotation of something foreign and worthy of disgust, but essentially inferior. In all the jokes, these goldsmiths, chauffeurs and merchants were sometimes cunning, but mostly just fools. The disdain of that word was accompanied by an arrogant tolerance.
In short, I have at my disposal an arsenal of prejudice, essentialisms and elements of Slavic racism. It is only fair to bust them, flip them, dissect them and write against all who believe in them, myself included. Whatever I might be imagining – it all boils down to politics.
The city park in Priština is poisoned by the disgracing of the murdered giants, originally executed on April 10, 1943 – a day as grimy as any April 10. Down the muddy road between Đakovica and Prizren the fascists had been dragging the two men in chains. The story says that spring was in the air – although the Prokletije mountains were still white with snow – when the executioners took out their revolvers near the village of Landovice and ordered Bora Vukmirović the Black – son of a Montenegrin father and a Bulgarian mother, farmer – and Ramiz “Baci” Sadiku – the mustached law student arrested even while still in high school – to separate. But Boro and Ramiz had been riding together and baking in the same Peć: they screwed the order and took the bullets embracing. A Serbian-Albanian friendship, death-stamped: factories, streets, settlement projects and the excellent modernist sports and youth center in Pristina, also designed by a Zagreb architect, were all named after them. Many still call the location “Bororamiz”, but today the building, a dedication of sorts to Tatlin’s monument to the Third International, sports an enormous poster of Adem Jashari – the “Albanian Che Guevara” – killed in Prekaz in 1999.
In old times, two busts stood in the park, and newlyweds would bring flowers. Today Ramiz is all alone: in Kosovo – just like in Croatia – the Partisan movement was retroactively ethnically cleansed. The monument in Landovice was destroyed as well. If Albanianism is a religion, it makes sense that it has its keepers, and – as the Belgrade band Alisa would put it – God’s keepers are the worst. Fighters for brotherhood and unity have been falsified into dreamers of the ethnic state, which is, according to the chauvinists and a few liberals, the only teleology of history. In silence, I hold Lena’s hand, gaze at the insidious damnatio memoriae and remember Walter Benjamin: “[…] even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.ˮ
A TOUCH OF DEATH
We sprawl across the sizzling asphalt towards the edge of the center. We hail a cab on the dusty roundabout and leave behind the Victory Hotel with its replica of the Statue of Liberty on the roof, a kitschy installation in bizarre juxtaposition to the enormous tower of the heating plant, a symbol of socialist construction. In some fifteen minutes we enter virtual Serbia: omnipresent three-colored flags, posters of Nikolić, and prices expressed in dinars. A village before the war, Gračanica has now been built into the metropolis of Kosovo Serbdom. In the building of the Cultural Center – photos of Milošević on Gazimestan. The sun is scorching the frustrations amassed in the tiny enclave, evaporating illusions into the heavy air, preventing breathing and blurring the vision. We walk towards the containers – donated by Russia – at the edge of the settlement, to hear how the refugees are living.
“My house in Obilić was burnt in 1999 and I’ve moved nine times since then. No one cares about us, as if we were cattle. We survive on welfare. The minister came for the opening of the flats. I accosted him, brought him rakija, he promised help. Six years and still nothing”, says Jasnica. Until the so-called “March incidents” – the pogrom of the Serbs in 2004 – she had been living in Vučitrn, when that house was burnt as well. Someone advised them to smash the municipality building, so the help would come.
“The worst is when people die, and we have no room to even lay them out to hold the wake”, she continues in a voice revealing a familiarity with breakdown.
Next to Jasnica, seated on the wooden boxes there are Tanja and Vojislav. On the ground a nearly empty soda bottle, cigarette butts floating, swarms of nasty flies attacking. Tanja mostly confirms Jasnica’s words, and Vojislav – in a crumpled polo-shirt, with only remnants of his hair, partially deaf, desiccated by life in infernal containers, blinded by sightless weeks without electricity – lost in his thoughts, looking with his quenched eyes for God-knows-what, perhaps a memory of happy – or at least human – days of boyhood, his mother and school days, flashes of a joy lost for good. The settlement has to be dismantled before fall, and what will become of them – they don’t know.
Tito’s time, they say, was blessed.
“And today – day after day, death breathing at your neck. Dig a grave and just bury us”, says Jasnica. She doesn’t want to go to Serbia – the actual Serbia – she’d just be a refugee all over again. In situations such as this I’ve always worried about the boundary of identification: often, I return home soaked with others’ traumas, sometimes churning them in my mind for months. Here I also was now, vulnerable, unprepared for the abyss.
“Come inside the container”, says Jasnica, “to see how it looks”. She displays the penury of her abode, her eyes glide over the TV set, the fridge, the narrow bed, all crammed into these few square meters, and then they fall on the photo hung on the wall.
“This is my daughter”, she says. Tears well up.
“They say she hanged herself, but I don’t believe it. Her husband killed her, I know it.” She bursts into tears. We stand in silence, dazed by the moist touch of death. Lena takes Jasnica by the hand, calms her down, while I stare at the photo in bewilderment, a face with brown eyes performing a most sorrowful melody, a requiem for the living. The old woman’s sobs open up a passageway and a dark void swells inside the container, sucking into itself the table and the checkered tablecloth, the scattered rags and leftovers from the meager lunch: instead of the refugee story I had been seeking now I see a murder and a rope around a young neck, I stare at the hypnotic swaying of the legs and twitching of the hanged body, and with every sob Jasnica utters I feel the rope tighten around my own neck, a rough touch causing goosebumps on the smooth skin. For some ten seconds I gaze upon the ever-hungrier black ball, alive and terrible at the same time. Lena’s warm touch brings me back. I take a photo of them embracing, a smiling crew of the ship sailing through a forgotten, unanimously insignificant hell, ever towards greater pain.
Cigarette smoke at the hostel window, the crispness of early morning, when the world is still soft, and problems sunlit. Lena is in sweet oblivion, exhausted by the rush of the recent days. I walk into the esplanade on my own. The old street trader is taking aBatmobile, toy planes, and battery-operated cats which shriek and twitch epileptically, out of cellophane bags and placing the plastic army on the ground. Stands selling old junk, traffic signs with the Serbian words sprayed over, walls sporting graffiti such as Eulex go home with the “x” turned into a swastika, thenEulexperiment, rage over this entire remote-controlled test, andBlej Shqip, the boring admonishment to Buy Albanian… Nearby is a restaurant where there is no service during the prayers, and Lena says kissing is not allowed. The culprits have a prohibition sign placed on their tables: this is not a friendly action.[…]
Politics is Lena’s subcutaneous obsession, fed by the trauma of being “undefined” in a bandit-like either-or environment, and feeble-minded questions such as “Which side of your family do you identify with?” Our guts are plagued, filled with balls of black bile, which is why I crave vengeance, the day when we’ll wrap all the dead eagles into the checkered red-and-white tablecloths from the French restaurant Chez Michel, and with a loud cackle let them all go down the drain. At nights we make love, slide our fingers around each other’s bodies, drawing the souls out to the surface. We dream of radical experiences which reduce consciousness to the animalistic, apolitical remnant which defies symbolic representation, with each petit mort we enjoy a novel triumph of the destruction of language and society… Touching sunburnt skin causes pain that spreads in shivers down the back, but a tiny sun of our own scorches the depressions which sizzle like slugs on a spit. “The dream of love”, Konstantinović says, “is the dream of escaping people, salvation from them, their presence, even their glances.” And illusion, for certain. We tacitly embraced the brief proviso. Later, maddened by uncertainty, we would pluck chunks of tissue, an execution known to the Chinese as death by a thousand cuts.
AN IMAGINARY SCENE
Four in the morning, the right time to deal with chauvinism, before the town is filled with the melodious voices of the muezzin, and the streets start crawling with cleaners. I go over the plan once more with Lena, kiss her in case matters take a wrong turn, and tiptoe into the yard so as not to wake the landlord. I take a large hammer, the one used to break rocks, from the garage. I walk towards the center. In front of the “Dubrovnik” tavern, I play “Towards new victories” by the punk band Paraf on my iPod. I take a swing, like a socrealist hero I try the stroke out, I reach the decision. The steel is already flying towards the marble – but my arm is frozen by the thought: isn’t it their job, after all? And mine is somewhere out there, in the north-west?
“We’re all connected by fate, and any nationalism must concern us all, because they are all against us”, I remember Šuvar, “They are all aiming for our heads”. I mercilessly crush Greater Albania into bits, along with it I annihilate the Independent State of Croatia and Greater Serbia as well. Dynamite would have been easier, but this makes the enjoyment greater, while refraining from criticism would be contempt, a covert kind of colonialism.
In the north, Kopaonik explodes, and from the Trepča mines gushes forth a flood: the viscous masses from the deeper layers have burst free. Through the blare of the sirens I dash towards the police station: two streets later, I have to start swimming. I enter through the window directly onto the second floor, where Lena awaits with a shotgun in one hand and a pistol in the other. She gives me the Heckler & Koch. We run onto the roof. The enemy is already attacking. From one side Albanians are charging, and from the other, Serbs. Behind them, somewhat more gingerly, Croats, letting the bearded blokes get killed first. Boom! Dum-dum-dum! We fire in all directions, the shells are flying. Lena shoots mercilessly, hot and armed like Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde.
The second echelon is charging – the national intellectuals, urban citizens and workers. We gleefully kick the asses of the first two groups. We think twice when it comes to the workers, but then we exterminate them as well, just to teach them a thing or two about responsibility. Dead identities are floating all around.
Translated by Danica Igrutinović