Friday, September 29, 2006

Fear of Embassies

Embassies make me queasy. It’s like going to the dentist. One expects something bad.
I’ve traveled. Not as much as I wanted to, but quite above average for a Serb my age. The pages of my passports (current and expired) are graced with holographic stickers of European stars and numerous stamps of cars, trains, airplanes from various border crossings.
Still every time I head for a consular office of a foreign country, the inherent Serbian fear of embassies kicks in and I become nervous and insecure. But can we really be blamed? It is a fear of humiliation and inferiority, it is an aversion to bullying guards and grumpy clerks, it is an intolerance of bureaucracy. The bottom line is – it is a fear of captivity.
I’ve never been denied a visa. I always have good reasons to travel and all the paperwork. But that is one of the things that bug me. Do you really need a GOOD reason? Isn’t wanting to go somewhere reason enough?
Well I can’t change the system, but I can overcome my fear. It’s a slow step by step process. Another visa, another stamp and a step closer to peace of mind.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Little Apple

Have you ever been given an entire city?

Sunday was Ivan’s and mine second anniversary. He made me a model of New York City as a sign of things that might be in the future

This future is still a long way away but things have started to develop. A lot of hard work is ahead, a lot of nerves will be lost.

In the meantime we have the gently swaying transparent buildings of an imaginary Brooklyn.

We sit on a sofa in our little red apartment careless and relaxed like in the original photograph from a seaside vacation.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Oh, Brother!

Globalization can be slow but it’s unavoidable. Big Brother has finally turned his eye on Serbia. Unlike many people I know I don’t see this as the end of civilization as we know it. Sure it’s somewhat mindless but it’s harmless and at times entertaining.

After the BB rehearsal – the unappealing introduction into the world of reality shows, which was a bit too real, reminding us of where we live and of all that is wrong with this country, the real thing is here, and it’s surprisingly decent.

What we could have learnt from the trial period is that Serbia seems rather superficial in selecting the only two decent looking people to go through to the actual show. But the one thing that really stands out, in my view at least, is the disproportional amount of attention on homosexuality. It is a topic in every episode, in conversations, on forums and in newspaper articles. After the appearance and later elimination from the rehearsal show of the first openly gay character on Serbian TV, we now see inklings of a debate or at least acknowledgement of an issue that is absolute taboo in our society.

Whether this was deliberately done to draw attention or not, I think it’s a good thing. It brings the problem into the homes of regular people, especially now that B92’s ratings have grown to levels they could only wish for with more intelligent programming.

I’m sure real surprises are yet to come. Personally I think it would be wonderful if Ivan and Marko hooked up. I’d enjoy it on both a symbolic and a personal level, but it’s not likely to happen. The good thing is that the first person to leave the house was kicked out by the housemates for being too intolerant to gay people. Hopefully some of what we saw on this surreal “reality” show will spread into our real reality.

Monday, September 11, 2006


It’s amazing how extraordinary events can make you remember completely insignificant details and forever embed an otherwise ordinary day into your memory.

I remember a cloudy September afternoon in Belgrade half a decade ago. Serbia was still enthusiastic and energetic less than a year after its conversion to democracy. Bitef, the theatre festival, was about to start, like every September, and after work (on the first serious job I ever had) I met up with a friend at a café in Kosovska Street to browse through the program and decide which plays to see. We made our choices and made our way in the weak rain to buy tickets. The ticket office was closed so I went home.

At home I found my transfixed family staring at the television and the surreal scenes from New York. I spend the rest of the day and night skipping from channel to channel in horror and morbid fascination, dreading the third world war which I thought would follow.

So what has changed five Septembers later? No WW3 for now, but, we live in a world which seems a little scarier and less safe. Maybe it is the same, only we are a bit more paranoid. I do feel, however that the world turned darker, more extreme, more repressive. Serbia turned darker too.

I have the disconcerting feeling that no lesson has been learnt from this terrible tragedy. Terrorism is no closer to being eradicated. Nothing has been done to address and prevent the reasons for its appearance. In the “democratic” world 9.11 has become yet another abused legacy of innocent victims - an excuse for human rights abuse and deepening prejudice.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

In the Army Now

In the woods of central Bosnia, young Slovenians, Croats, Bosnians and Serbs fought a fierce battle. This time, fortunately, they only used paint, the teams were mixed, and it was all in good spirit. Ironically, I spend the weekend ahead of the start of my civilian army service playing paintball. There goes my “objection to arms” argument. Hopefully no one will know.
As always when I find myself surrounded by people that I used to share a country with when we were just children we get along perfectly. Whether it was student seminars in Slovenia or festivals in Bosnia or now this meeting with my colleagues from the region, my generation seems open and genuinely nostalgic of times it hardly remembers.
But it’s not easy to forget what happened. It’s never far away, especially in Bosnia. Hiking in the mountain you can’t help but think whether there are landmines if you step off the beaten track, and every once in a while you come across a burnt house riddled with bullets. Paintball perhaps isn’t the perfect sport for that country. One of my Bosnian colleagues said it was rather disturbing when the “bullets” started whizzing past her head. I can understand.
All the war games bring me back to the beginning - and the army. In Montenegro, army duty has just been abolished. In Serbia we still have to serve, albeit with a civilian alternative. The good news is that I got what I asked for, an institution which is flexible enough so that I can continue working.
I am however angry that this outdated concept still exists. I am angry that for the next nine months I am only allowed to work in my company on contract and not full time, which technically makes me unemployed, all because the army is officially paying me 5 Euros a month! I even feel a bit guilty about the watered-down request I submitted for civilian service. Instead of saying what I really feel I wrote some general observations on pacifism. Yes, the result is favorable for me, at least as favorable as it gets. I did what was practical and pragmatic, I played a along. But by playing along we maintain a system which is rotten and should be dismantled. Such things really annoy me.