Blesok no. 26, May-June, 2002
Essays


My Balkans

Igor Isakovski


Bread and Salt

     I am not talking about the band; I am talking about the custom: guest should be welcomed with bread and salt and thereby greeted. When I look back I see how many welcomes the Balkan nations have already extended each other and how many times they have said goodbye. Socialism is departing (to those of you who keep nagging about Communism – it was never here!), a time of transition is arriving, a time of great change. However stupid it may sound: the Balkans have mutated. Here we must of course stress that mutation is similar to degradation. This is why certain “smart” foreign politicians have boldly begun to prepare a euthanasia for the Balkans. But these politicians would have been able to do nothing if we had (better, prettier and) smarter ones. I guess we fucked ourselves up by picking crooks and maniacs. The main trauma of the Balkans is the constant search for a leader and an ideal. The Balkan nations wish for a firm hand and a sound sleep, no question asked; and the beauty of this “guardian” is in that someone else always decides, someone else is responsible. We have nothing to do with it. We “just” voted. We were just “a little” swindled. And then they go and think up the term: “transition”. It is supposed to mean a passage, a change. And I guess we’ve almost all passed. Thirsty over water. If it weren’t tragic it would be funny. Lots of things changed, sure. For the better. And some people might have actually needed this catharsis. I just hope it’s over soon. Things are getting harder. And they make no more sense.

Take the Money and Run

     With transition came these terms: Pretension, Privatization, Nation. Nationalism was always only a mask: no one worried about their minorities in other countries – they were only an excuse for the pillage, plunder and slaughter, an excuse for the selling of the big and small (all the way to the smallest: give what you can) companies to “esteemed individuals”, an excuse for building up media walls around tiny pens, where sheep await the slaughter and the shepherds feast. They eat all – even the insides, even the bones, the noble eyes. The last (can I call it the “last”!?) of the Balkan wars took place for payment. Territories were one of the currencies. And all the people on them: all those who did not manage to get away and all those who remained – people.

The Knights of Urbanity

     The last Balkan wars were in part armed pastorals against urbanity. Or so the new theories go. I’m reading “Sarajevo for beginners” by Ozren Kebo again. I’m reading “Letters to a heavenly nation” by Gojko Berić. These are people who “somehow stormed” through the war. And they stayed: the people in Sarajevo stayed. These are the books fighting against war today: urban books for urban people. But it wasn’t only the non-urban people leading the wars. The wars were led by creatures who moved to the city but were unable to establish a healthy connection with it. The wars were led by those, who accepted at first viewing and even?!) developed the ideas of ethnically clean and “great” states. And then they followed their ever-hungry shepherds. This virus of megalomania and national chauvinism took of from the cities only to spread over the machine of the media. As far as I know, the people who run the media live in cities. And yet it was these people that accepted the deal not be objective: they chose a side, thereby assuring themselves a background to fall on and making an excuse for the machinery of war. The big virus went into action: to free the “chosen nations” from the collective feelings of guilt. This was one of the big injections for the euthanasia of the Balkans. The big virus, galloping madly, tried to delete anyone that stood in it’s way.
     The knights of urbanity survived. They’re talking now. This is why I don’t have to say so much. They’ve said all that had to be said already. Perhaps someday they will be translated to Macedonian.
     In Skopje they know a very precise term for a man who had mutated from a peasant. The term is “kmet”, peasant, as opposed to the term for the real peasant or shepher “selanec” – villager. As long as we let the “kmet”s poison the media space by producing kitsch, we ourselves are the victims. New sheep in the old pen.
     I bought a moderately sized backpack at “Baš Čaršija” instead of souvenirs to take with me to Skopje all the books and magazines that some of the attendees of European literary congresses gave me in Sarajevo. They weighed them at the airport: around 20 kilos. What will I do with souvenirs, when these books are part of the (collective?) memory.
     Books are here to talk. To remind us of what people are capable of. Around 20 kilos of war, blood, mud, trenches and sieges, of thirst and fear. And yet: what’s 20 kilos to a child?

Recipes, Foreign. Languages, Native.

     It’s still best soon forgotten. To start from the beginning again. He, who answers the question “how” precisely, shall be proclaimed wise. Every second newcomer knows how we should live. It’s clearly stated in the instructions their superiors gave them. If a recipe turns out to be unsuccessful, they shove another one in our face and try to convince us that it will work. Nothing doing. I keep thinking: if all these foreign politicians were so cool, they’d have solved Ireland already, the Basks, global terrorism and whatever bullshit remains. But hark – they have not. I have to admit they’re great experimenters though. The fact that we, a Balkan nation, are their niggers, bears no special meaning to them. Yesterday it was the Africans, tommorow it will be an Asian nation, the Eskimos, whatever turns up… He, who survives, writes the books. Which leads me to the question of language. I’m writing this text in the serbo-croato-bosnian language, because Primož and the Apokalipsa team would have a hard time translating it from Macedonian to English (I too miss a deadline sometimes). It’s not my mother’s tongue, but I manage. I grew up with “Politikin Zabavnik”, watched YU-films, red Miller in Serbocroatian, served the Yugoslav army in Zagreb, traveled throughout ex-YU, listened to Azra, Disciplina Kitschme, EKV, Haustor… I would have to be stupid not to know the language. And yet one has to be careful when branding languages. The Croats croat the Serbian translation, the Serbs are cleaning up their dictionaries and the Bosnians are turning to language for yet another support in strengthening their fragile country. Instead of people submerging into the great Balkan melting-pot, they keep dividing resentfully. Let them: if they have not learned their lessons, let them try again. Perhaps this time they shall not end in blood.

Multiculture

     A fable exists: that multiculure provokes racism. I’ve heard my share, but I remember such jewels… Multiculture has never provoked racism. The problem with multiculture began when certain “smart” people decided that what had been destroyed is the multicultural. If we had been cautious before all this shit over ex-YU began, the illiterates and schizoids would have been unable to push people into clouds of gunpowder. Ever since the “wise men” invented multicultures, they have more and more become words on paper. Even and open acceptance of the Other must not be, no way. Why should I accept someone just because they are different from me? I value people by what they do, regardless of the culture they belong to. It was enough for me to see how “the leaders” are poisoning the multitudes with fear and hatred toward the Other. This gets us nowhere.

War tourism

     We drove into the horribly quiet town of Mostar with one of the few trains in Bosnia and Herzegovina. My friends from Zagreb are making up jokes about the Croatian telekom: their mobiles get a signal precisely when we drive over half the bridge. If it weren’t tragic it would be funny. And we’re all a little uncomfortable. The virtual dividing line is now as strong as the other, real one. We then get a tour around the city. An organized tour for writers. They take us straight to the “dividing street”. A narrow street, two cars can hardly get by each other. Ruins on both sides. Is this even a street, if it divides instead of joining? And what the hell does divide? These humble ruins? My friends Nedim, Mešo, Katerina and I go on, as far away from the ruins as we can, we are drawn by the river – no one’s managed to tear that down yet. And then the man leading the tour kindly asks us to wait. “To show our friends, writers from the world, what took place here,” he says. And some writers they are! War tourists with cameras. They’re snapping like mad. I turn my head not to watch these miserable creeps, but what I get in sight are the remains of a wall, and behind it, the remains of furniture, the remains of some lives. I’m gazing at the little street again. I start wondering what they were thinking, when they took shots at each other from such a small distance. If they were thinking at all. It is the year 2001 and quite some time has passed since the war. Not enough though. This street remains and reminds. A street is not a book. As long as this street does not simply start to bore people, so that they may tear it down, level it with the earth, and then build new houses there, new bars, new tea-houses and new bakeries, that long the war will not be in the past.

A Purty Gal’ and a Flabby Old  Lady

     In the Balkans it is the politics that is always pushing up front like an uncultured little girl. And it does mostly where it doesn’t belong. No Balkan politics has ever promoted it’s country or it’s people. These half illiterate politicians promote only their miserable selves. And culture, as the strongest promoter of ideas is of course thorn in the politicians paws. That’s why all those so-called singers have surfaced. No rock, no jazz. Hit the folk music folks, and if it’s turbo-folk, so much the better. This, my brother, raises adrenalin levels. And lovers even the lowest IQ. The “kmets” have become stronger.
     Culture is surfacing slowly. They buried deep, the bastards. But look, it’s surfacing where it’s least expected, not where you look for it. It’s surfacing from the alternative, from the underground from dark nooks, from around corners of boulevards. The flabby old lady culture slowly sips at it’s last drink in one of the flashy salons. My dear, young and powerful Sub is throwing out the last deeply rooted “greats” with the trash. “Forward,” it says and laughs. “We must build a Balkan cultural scene at both levels,” it commands, “the exchange of ideas and works of art on one side, enabling comparisons on the other.” I watch. Paroles were never my thing, but what it’s saying makes sense.

The Peddlers of Made-to-Order Paintings – the Manufacture of Stereotypes

     Where is it exactly that we should go ahead from? Our positions are unclear. We too were, whether we like it or not, parts of the herds led by bad shepherds. And our voice was too weak, it was not heard. As always, the intellectuals and artists were too easy a prey for the war-media machinery. The others: the less creative, less successful, less brave found a bosom in the totalitarian governments. The loudest were those who in fact had their mouths full of totalitarianism. And look… Everything would’ve gone trough easily in black and white, were it not for yet a third kind – those who began selling in the West and image of the Balkans, that the West had already planned and thereby looked for: backward bloodhounds of untamable temper. People who eat children for breakfast and drink spirits for lunch. Or the other way, as some would have it. No culture, no tradition (except for the occasional bloody revenge, of course), no heritage, nothing of the glorious past but rather a presubscribed history of blood and ashes. We’ve become a separated herd, everyone else became Other. An enemy. And the aforementioned third kind opened festivals, their books were translated into numerous foreign language, and so forth. We were supposed to take pride in this. I, for one, did not. I was so disgusted with this mob of mercenaries, that I can’t even say their names. Or, for that matter, the politicians’.

Forth

     The vision is not futuristic, I would sooner say it’s realistic: the Balkans shall become a union, beginning with free trade, later adding a common currency. Only then will the EU begin to think of the Balkans as an equal partner and not as a place for exhibiting and testing their feeble theories. And of course, the Balkans shall gain in self confidence.
     Meanwhile, it would not be bad to begin with ourselves: translations, the exchange of ideas and works of art, urbanizing the city kmets. Lot’s of work…

This essay was published in Apokalipsa, no. 53/54
Translated by: Jure Novak




__________________________________________________________
created by