I’M AFRAID I CAN’T HELP IT

‘The wisest thing to do if you’re living in hell is to make yourself comfortable.’

After days of relentless  bombardment drove us underground, just feeling the sunlight on our skin became a luxury. I’m sitting in the sun, reaching out to it, touching it, breathing it in, and swimming in its heat. I wish I could drown in it. I wish I could track it across the sky from east to west to keep track of time. I wish my time was flying instead of dragging like this. I wish I could stop watching the clock and do what it does. Keep going.

Another lifeless day is lazily passing by, lethargy creeping over my face like shadows at dusk. There’s nothing to do. Nothing I can do.

(Apr 6, 1941. ‘German ground forces crossed the Yugoslav border and the Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels announced Germany’s declaration of war. The invasion and concurrent bombing of Belgrade coincided with Orthodox Easter Sunday, according to the Julian calendar.’)

Apr 6, 1999. Mom’s shriek interrupted my slumber abruptly this morning. The first bomb was dropped immediately after the siren went off. I think we counted 6, only one of which was far off. The lights went out right away. The whole house shook, jumping up in fright, and the doors were blown off the hinges. We’re lying on the ground covered with jackets and blankets. I lift my head to see mom holding a big cushion like the halo over our heads. I feel my bowels move, a burning sensation in my stomach rising in the chest, and spreading to the neck, throat, and mouth. I hear squeaking, gurgling and rumbling inside of me. My skin itches as if tingled by the scratchy fabric. I think I’m gonna throw up…We find out later the target was an army barracks some 985ft (300m) away. The windows of nearby houses were blown out, and surrounding walls pockmarked with fist-sized holes, the explosion sending a shower of splintered wood, plaster and bricks flying all over, and landing in our gardens and on roof tops. By sheer coincidence, no one got killed. After a while, the hall unexpectedly fills with silence, tangible, oppressive and heavy like a bulky carrier bag. So much quiet makes your blood freeze.

We pick up where we’ve left off, sis and I playing cards, our parents catching up on some sleep. At one point, you have to consider entertainment, books, movies, board games and crosswords being a good place to start. Another decent time waster is the PlayStation. The only store in town offers loads of content to explore, car racing games being our favorite. We lie around like couch potatoes with an irrational hatred of anyone who sets foot on our lawns. Enjoying legal immunity from prosecution, my friends, sis and I lose ourselves in the marvelous Land of Oz, walking its endless roads paved with gold. The ultimate jerkland. The pleasure is always there but the mess afterwards is a pain in the butt and back. As our sex drive’s insatiable, once we’ve cummed and the initial ache has somewhat waned, we’ll be back for more.

I crawled into bed around 1AM that night though I didn’t feel like sleeping only to leap out of it shortly, frightened out of wits by the sudden return of the planes and the piercing noise tearing up the sky. As soon as it subsided, we took turns running to the bathroom to set our neurosis free. I had a strange dream. I’m in it though I can’t see myself. It’s as if I was holding a camera and shooting. I see a young Asian woman with her hair put up in a bun, wearing a transparent dress. She calls herself the mistress of the dark and asks me to come with her. The quiet of the night brings on stressful thoughts. The panic at just the prospect of sleeping through the bombs and not waking up has kept me awake for a long time. After tossing and turning for hours, I finally fall asleep, but it’s not long before a loud detonation startles me out of bed again. We became quite good at abrupt awakenings. No wonder the whole nation suffered from sleep deprivation and was on either anti-depressants or sleeping pills, or both.

The harsh sound of an alarm clock had always stressed me out (along with the Wake uuuup alreeeeadyyy! angry voices), which is why I ditched it a while ago and learned to rely on less-jarring a.m. wake-up aids, such as natural sunlight or setting the clock radio to the classical station. Some need a siren to get up in the morning though (trust me) not the kind we got used to. There’s no worse alarm clock than air-raid sirens, warplanes or detonations, creeping into your homes and heads like sneak burglars deep in the night. However tired or sleepy you are, rest assured you wouldn’t dare to hit the ‘snooze’ button because sleep is the last thing on your mind when your life’s at stake. The day before Easter, we’re spending our endlessly long time squatting by the candlelight, and, locked in our darkness, wait for the worse yet to come.

April 12. It’s been 20 days already. It’s freezing in the basement, the cold air leaking around the door. It was a noisy night and I couldn’t help feeling like a little pig, threatened by a big bad wolf. Would we be better off if we had stayed in our house made of bricks, instead of this one, made of straw and sticks which now seems so easy to blow down if the huffing and puffing gets stronger? I wonder how many planes there were in the air tonight. It must have been dozens as many towns were bombed after midnight. Later that day, sis and I stopped by our mom’s workplace when we heard two detonations. A railway bridge was bombed, hitting an international passenger train Belgrade-Thessaloniki, Greece, 15 of the killed civilians identified, a large number classified as missing, 50 casualties reported by a Yugoslav news agency, and up to 60 according to other sources. Additionally, 6 civilians were killed in a village marking the administrative boundary line between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia. A couple of days later, NATO aircraft repeatedly bombed the Albanian refugee convoy over a 12 m (20 km) stretch of road in western Kosovo, killing 73 civilians and injuring 100, Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented. It’s pouring with rain. I’ve been listening to Enigma all day, my thoughts scattered like shrapnel all over.

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April 16. It’s been a while since we stopped turning off the lights in the evening, only making sure the windows stayed covered with blankets and the shutters were down. We heard a series of strong detonations today. The anchor of the evening news kept reading a list of towns bombed last night, so long, I lost count of it. Sis is waxing her legs and plucking her eyebrows. Out of spite. If I must die, I want to die beautiful. (Can we pick up where we’ve left off, really?) We have been going out lately, strolling around the town, meeting up with friends for a daily intake of laughter to survive a thousand daily deaths, and sitting in cafés, without ordering anything. Everybody’s broke. Nobody’s mentioning salaries.

The next day was quiet and cool. The air smelled of spring blossom, moist soil and life growing. Three huge hits on the industrial complex in a city near Belgrade enveloped it in clouds of black smoke. By dawn, dozens of people were hospitalized gasping for air, struggling to see and unable to digest food. The sun was blotted out for nearly a day as people moved with rags over their noses and mouths through the fog. Flames will leap from the site for days. I’m breathing the cool mountain air. I wish I could stay outside forever. I hear news of a three-year old girl struck by a rocket shard while on the potty in the suburbs of Belgrade. I wish I could stay inside. Forever is an illusion anyway. April 21: the second bombing of a Serbian refugee camp in western Kosovo, 4 civilians killed according to The Los Angeles Times, 5 reported by a Belgrade-based bulletin. There’s been a heavy thunderstorm all morning. Whether it’s a sharp, loud crack or a long, low rumble, I can’t seem to tell a crash of thunder or a swollen river from planes and thundering bombs apart. Blasts often sound like a heavy clap of thunder, while thunder resembles cruise missiles hitting the ground. I hate thunder. I’m afraid of it. It’s a family thing. My granny was scared, my mom too, now I am scared, every generation making sure the next one inherits the dread. April 23: the Serbian state television and radio headquarters (RTS) in central Belgrade was hit, which makes it the largest incident in the capital so far, killing 16 civilian technicians and other production staff and wounding 18. The broadcast was blacked out as a result, but resumed three hours after the bombing. We watched as many as 5 movies today. We can no longer listen to the radio since the transmitter near Belgrade was bombed. April 30: bombs strike a village in Montenegro, killing 6 civilians, 3 of whom were underage. I have a terrible stomachache all the time.

Strong detonations startle me awake the following night. Barefoot, we dash into the hall, squeezing ourselves against the wall, wishing we could squeeze ourselves through the crack in that wall. I stop breathing for a brief moment, eavesdropping, feeling heartbeats in my lower stomach. I didn’t choose this life. I wish I could start afresh, and throw dice like in Monopoly with as many as 40 different squares to land on. I wish I could buy and trade freedom or draw a card that would enable me to move. I wish I had picked the one with different results, receiving income and paying taxes. I wish the culprits ended up in jail. I wish I could drive greed into bankruptcy and wake up to a world regulating monopolists and discouraging killings, a world without deer heads on the walls. I wish…

The candle is slowly dying and I’m writing this is complete darkness.

I’M AFRAID OF THE WORLD

 ‘What is your youth doing while you’re sleeping? – It’s awake, lurking. And when it loses patience, it wakes you up.’

On Mar 28 1999, shortly after the bombing of Yugoslavia started, the world had its mouth full of us because ‘the Serbs did the impossible and shot down an F-117 Nighthawk, deadly not only because of its extreme maneuverability but also its ability to be invisible to radar. It was the only time such a plane had ever been destroyed’ (source: War History Online) and was the pride of American aviation. On the same day, a rock concert was held at noon in downtown Belgrade although the siren indicating the cessation of danger hadn’t gone off. 30,000 people gathered to express their disapproval of the war and show they were choosing life over death, many with a transparent in their hands: No Ryan will be saved. Sorry, we didn’t know it was invisible. Clinton, do you happen to have an F-118? We are no Indians. NATO made a mess, will you please kiss my ass? Columbus, you curious mother fucker. Only your brains are invisible. I’m not Monica, America is. Hillary, don’t be Eva Braun. I swap the F-117 for a pack of cigarettes. Monica was good, but Tony (Blair) is better. The U.S.A.: The United Serb Association. Clinton, you should’ve taken that left turn at Albuquerque. Mission Impossible. Dream Team: YU Air Forces. If only we had known about the rubber (Bill’s parents). I’m not a mushroom to grow in the basement. Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing…

In a couple of days, the world will start protesting against the US-NATO bombing campaign, with tens of thousands of people in the streets of Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and India. There are over 15,000 protesters in Vienna, 20,000 in Rome, Genoa, Turin and Milan, we hear of incidents in Athens and Skopje, Macedonia…Most Britons, according to a survey of public opinion, accuse Tony Blaire of hypocrisy and attack on sovereignty. The Italian Parliament, with a majority of 380 votes, makes a plea for the cessation of air strikes. It means so much to know we’re not alone.

The siren went off again during the night. My sister and I jumped out of our beds and ran into our parents’ room, mom screaming frantically: ‘C’mon, the siren, the siren!’ She put on her pants hurriedly but took them off in a few after we’d decided not to go to the shelter. I wasn’t able to return to sleep, wishing it was my youth that kept waking me up. Later that day, sis and I went out to do some grocery shopping but to our surprise (or not) there was no more canned food on the shelves, nor candles for that matter, so we went back home with a bottle of yogurt, which was the only thing we found. We’re doing our best to make ourselves busy but somehow always end up wandering aimlessly around the house. Mom opens a window wide, letting the pleasant smell of spring walk in and spread unpretentiously across the living room. I catch sight of the bright yellow cornelian cherry flowers bent over the edge of the TV screen. The TV’s out after the transmitter was hit. We heard on the radio that a couple of NATO planes were shot down, an American pilot caught, another one on the run.

We have only three TV channels, always playing the same WWII movies, with our guys outsmarting the Germans. Dad comes from work. He’ll be home the following four days. A new (war) work schedule. He says the roads are congested, people leaving the cities and fleeing to villages. Phone lines are dead. We can’t get through to granny, aunt and uncle who live in a near-by town and when we do, once in a blue moon, we’re either breaking up or getting cut off. They are doing the same, sitting and waiting. Mom is bringing us food again although we don’t feel like eating. She tries to sound composed. The two of us try not to show we’re scared. We try to lead a life behind bars imposed on us. I can hear my own fear mocking me.

On the first day of April, a bridge in Novi Sad, the capital of Serbia’s northern province of Vojvodina, was destroyed by NATO projectiles. Citizens of Belgrade, fearing the same destiny, made a live bridge, holding hands and pictures of targets on a bridge across the Danube, along with its architect. It’s been two days since we slept at home, mostly snoozing in the hall as there are no windows here. I was roused by the rumbling of the planes after midnight. Oddly, I didn’t feel anything. No pounding heart. No restless legs. Nothing but sheer indifference. Fear doesn’t dwell here anymore. I don’t want to be afraid. I fell asleep like a baby, who, after having a bellyful, felt there was not one reason to cry. I wake up to the news that downtown Belgrade was struck, cruising missiles hitting the Yugoslav Ministry of Defense building next to the obstetrics and gynecology clinics and psychiatric hospital.

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In the meantime, another family with two small children joined our one-room shelter without a toilet, which makes a total of 24 of us, packed in like sardines. Everyone’s tense, listening to the radio and waiting for new lies and misinformation. I can’t stand these people any more. I look through them as I look through this moment, uttering a few lazy words only when asked, politely and reluctantly. I mainly just nod or shake my head, avoiding excessive wh-questions.  I prefer looking around, staring at the crumbly walls or soft ceiling that might fall down any second. I’m watching our lives crack and break down like poor quality plaster, friable between our fingers. I can’t breathe. I can’t….I have to go out to catch some fresh air. There are no street lights and stars in the night look like airplanes, the moon snarling at me. Detonations are coming from all possible directions, the evening sky turning purple every time it hits. I’m losing the ground beneath my feet. I’m so tired. Tired of sleeping during the day and staying up late at night, tired of running nervously down my street with eyes high above, I’m tired of putting the pillow over my head to block the sound of the planes, I’m tired of waking up to the familiar noise of explosions, crawling in bed with my clothes on, and being angry all the time, I’m sick and tired of eating in haste, I hate swallowing before chewing, gulping my food down in one bite, and stuffing my face with it like a squirrel, not knowing when I’ll eat again. I hate this life.

The following days saw lots of civilians dead: 11 killed after a village in Kosovo was hit by three missiles, 3 workers killed in the oil refinery in a city near Belgrade, which ignited 80,000 tons (88,185 metric tons) of oil into flames, the concentration of carcinogens over the city rising 10,500 times higher than local laws allowed. 1 person killed after airstrikes hit power plants in Belgrade. The outskirts of the city where my granny, uncle and aunt live, 25m (40km) away, hit with 11 bombs in broad daylight, killing 2 civilians and injuring 15. Last night, I heard our ground based anti-air systems, missiles and guns, trying to shoot down the incoming cruise missiles. I didn’t feel my smell, I didn’t hear my voice. I didn’t see my thoughts. I don’t want to see. 12 civilians killed in a southern mining town, 35 houses and 125 apartments destroyed, with no military target in the vicinity according to a Serbian newspaper. I want to remember better days, carefree and distant. I don’t want to be a part of the world dreaming of death. I need to wake up to a new day and a new night.

‘You’ve admired their efficiency, their comfort, their values, their hygiene, their might and their will. You hate the geography mistake that didn’t allow you to be a part of another world that isn’t chronically in love with conflicts and misery.’ Now you despise the very world you thought so highly of. You loathe it and are afraid of it. You prefer your world, however flawed. A world which seems incapable of peace.

I’M AFRAID OF AMERICANS

Attention, attention. Air raid. Go to a bomb shelter immediately. Open the windows, lower the shutters, turn off the power supply, turn off the gas, and take only the bare necessities with you. If you are in a vehicle, park it on the side of the road and head to the nearest underground shelter. Air raid, please follow the instructions provided by the Information Center. Over.

On March 24, 1999 at 7:45 PM CET, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) launched air strikes against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), composed of Serbia and Montenegro, during the Kosovo War, with the bombing of Serbian military positions in its southern province of Kosovo. An uninterrupted 60 second signal tone denoted a state of emergency that lasted until 5.30 AM the next day. We heard bombs rumbling in the distance. I remember the panic, the terror, limbs going numb, heart racing, squatting in the middle of the living room and holding each other tight. An ‘imminent threat of war against Yugoslavia by NATO’ was declared on national television right after the fist bombs hit, along with a list of instructions on what to do when air raid sirens go off, followed by a huge mobilization of troops and resources. As of day one, the creepy music of penetrating warning sounds was played on a regular basis, giving us chills every fucking time.

The following day, the sirens start wailing at 1.30 PM. Once again, we switch off the lights and electrical appliances, open the windows wide, and lower the shutters, blocking out the sun, rain, wind, life. Wrapped in a blanked the color of veins, I’m kneeling on the floor in the dark half of the hall in the central part of my parents’ house, listening to the indistinct voices of the street, the voice of a mother, a grandfather, a brother, a husband, a toddler, whimpering dogs, and bewildered roosters. In the night between Mar 25 and 26, I heard the deafening noise of swarming planes for the first time. Deadly mosquitoes buzzing endlessly in the skies above made our blood run cold and caused us to develop an arrhythmia on the spot and chronic insomnia and noise phobia with time. The sound produced by warplanes, especially when flying low at high speeds and perceived as danger, is hard to describe. Your body reacts without conscious thought, seeking cover, and you feel its intensity in your nostrils and your throat, it chokes you, it makes your knees tremble, it vibrates in your stomach, turning your bowels upside down, it incapacitates your legs, paralyzes your spine and tongue, blurs your vision and messes with your brain. The lights have gone out, candles being a rare commodity these days. We have only one left which we decide to keep for a rainy day. I close my eyes for a few seconds and feel a wave of claustrophobic darkness wash over me.

Three days after the bombing had started, the wise men of our small tribal community decided we should start hiding in the basement of a shaggy old house at the end of the street. Most towns didn’t have a proper underground bomb shelter so that people were mainly hiding in house/apartment building basements. The decision to leave your house and join a bunch of strangers isn’t the one you’ll make lightly. However, the elderly think it’s necessary when the unthinkable occurs. Choosing your emergency shelter supplies is not easy either as you have no idea how long the air raid could last and what might come out of it. Most importantly, you need something to keep you comfortable and well-fed during the time you’ll spend there. A sandwich, enough drinking water and blankets were a must. But, as no one could imagine a temporary visit to the shelter would turn into a prolonged stay, a couple days’ worth of non-perishable food, let alone the first aid kit, wasn’t on our mind. Everyone thought about how to make it that very day. Tomorrow was too far away.

Our new temporary shelter was a centenarian, which made it the oldest fella in the neighborhood. Stone, and blocks made of mud and straw were protruding everywhere. In today’s world of advanced architecture, such a home would be considered healthy and safe for a living after some additional renovations, but no house can be safe enough to protect you from bombs unless it’s a proper fallout shelter. In spite of this, at the time being, we find comfort in sharing our plight with others, although we don’t really know each other. Ironically, a couple of decades later, I’ll read about a video game, the war and post-war world of the underground nuclear fallout shelter that will prove to be massively popular on mobile phones and PCs, which will be downloaded by millions and earn staggering $5m in its first two weeks on sale. It’ll be described as ‘a highly addictive building and management game in which you construct your own vault and carefully manage the people and resources to create a thriving sun-free community.’ They suggest stockpiling granola, as well as salt, pepper and other spices. Oh boy! If the game makers had known half of what we did about the shelter, they would have never come up with such a dull pastime because it’s impossible to turn an apocalyptic hell into a home.

I walk into a dungeon I’ll be sharing with my neighbors, cramped in a matchbox with wooden benches on the side, waving hello to wrinkled faces of the elderly, kids chit-chatting, serving tea and sweet coffee, sleeping, acting out, a two-year old girl who can’t stop crying, and her older sister who has a hard time being called by her nickname (Nato), preschool and elementary school children with their parents who cling to the hope that this frenzy will soon come to an end and a charismatic guy in his late 60s apparently skilled at making everyone feel better. I’m trying to avoid close encounters, unnecessary remarks and compulsory smiles, turning my head not to feel bad breath coming from teeth they haven’t brushed in days. It’s terribly cold and smells of mold. I’m wearing a T-shirt, an undershirt, a sweatshirt, a woolen sweater, a warm hoodie, a winter jacket, thick tights, two pairs of woolen socks pulled over my knees, and sport shoes. I take a seat on a bench without backrest, feeling cushions underneath, and cover my shoulders with a blanket. After a few hours of uncertainty, the sirens blare the end of danger and we all go home only to head back to the improvised bomb shelter as soon as the ear-piercing screech goes off again. We’re back to black: drowsy kids, worried parents and toothless old women in PJs who hurried back, obviously forgetting their teeth at home. They don’t feel like prattling any more, and place their hands over their mouths when laughing wholeheartedly. Leaning against the wall, I’m closing my eyes to catch up on some sleep but wake up at the slightest sound. From a heavy sleeper, I turned into a light one. A pin dropping two rooms away behind a closed door would startle me awake, let alone a truck driving by or honking.

I’ve been dreaming a lot lately. I had a dream that all people were created equal…

 

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* Originally published at Morality Park

FROM AMERICA & EUROPE WITH LOVE

The peace talks, prompted partly by the Račak massacre and attempting to get Serb and Albanian delegations to sign up to an agreement giving Kosovo substantial self-government, were held at the ancient Chateau of Rambouillet near Paris in Feb 1999. The Rambouillet agreement of the NATO powers looked like a game show with no multiple-choice questions, only one contestant and limited time to answer them. Furthermore, there were no ‘Ask the Audience’ or ‘Phone a Friend’ options, and the idea of the autonomy for Serbia’s southern province of Kosovo, along with an international military presence not only in Kosovo but also in other parts of Serbia, did not really sound appealing to the Serbian negotiators. Interestingly, additional demands were introduced in the final moments of the peace talks after Serbia had already agreed to the main proposals, which practically guaranteed the negative outcome. Now the other side wanted ‘free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) including associated airspace and territorial waters, without limits or obligations or concern for the laws of the country or the jurisdiction of its authorities, who are, however, required to follow NATO orders on a priority basis and with all appropriate means’ (source: Kosovo Peace Accord, Noam Chomsky). The idea of ‘complete military occupation and political control of Kosovo by NATO, and effective NATO military occupation of the rest of Yugoslavia at NATO’s will’ that the Rambouillet Agreement called for was unacceptable for the Serbian officials. We can’t really blame them, can we?

President Milošević reluctantly went back to school. With his digressive questions, he was clearly trying the professors’ patience, who (kindly) asked that all questions be asked at end of the lecture. Moreover, the U.S. and NATO were offended and humiliated in front of the whole class by his contemptuous refusal to play by the book. However, they didn’t wallow in their distress long, and decided to plan for the future. If they walked away after having their mind set on making use of those bombs…eh…bringing us democracy, it would be embarrassing, right? Of course, Kosovo cannot be viewed separately from the Yugoslav wars. The behavior of the Serbian state in Croatia and Bosnia, when the JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) under the control of the authorities in Belgrade had the upper hand, resulted in crimes against humanity and destruction of cities. It was obviously payback time. Be that as it may, violence is Washington’s strong card, and guaranteeing the credibility of NATO a must, especially at the time of celebrating the golden wedding anniversary. What better way to do so than making others scared of ‘the Global Minotaur?’ Very scared. To avoid their credibility becoming incredible, the Bogeymen in charge said loud and clear there was NO alternative to bombing, closing the chapter and inventing the new rules. Being the usual suspect is no fun though, hands down, we were nothing but collateral damage. We came in handy, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was nothing personal. It was all about a fit at the given moment, which we didn’t. If it hadn’t been us, it would have been someone else. Anyhow, we were persuaded it was all for our own good, the ‘intervention/operation’ being lovingly called ‘humanitarian’ or, to be more precise, ‘Noble Anvil.’

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Every anniversary is a milestone. Long-time couples often find great romance in seeking the most memorable ways of reaffirming their love for each other. Our couple, Washington and Brussels, first went on a picnic, popping open a bottle of champagne, and viewing the incredible sunrise hand in hand, which seemed more like a sunset to us. Then, they brought back the memories when they were young and used to spend a lot of time making out. Later that day, they lit some candles, gave each other a sensual massage, and spiced things up by trying new sexual positions. The evening culminated in renewing their wedding vows, promising love till the end of times (or at least the world) and exchanging gifts. Wedding anniversary presents are often themed to the year. Sexy lingerie, chocolate, flowers and jewelry are so out. This is when they thought of us (oh my God, we are golden!), and went shooting to blow off some steam. Charming, isn’t it? Happy Anniversary! We wish you many happy returns, your love getting stronger and stronger with time by making others weaker and weaker.

After 11 hours in the torture chamber, the peace talks failed, as Milošević refused to sign the generous proposal of the States and NATO. Clinton administration thought ‘NATO should be able to act independently of the United Nations.’ According to Chomsky, the bombing of the FRY, made of Serbia and Montenegro, in March ‘99, ‘threatened to undermine a growing democratic movement in Serbia, jeopardizing the lives of 10 million people,’ but, who was thinking about democracy when there were lives to save. There would undoubtedly be many fatalities along the way, not to mention a huge refugee flow that would follow the bombing, but that’s the price of peace, n’est-ce pas?

I was an English Language and Literature student, and had been living in the city of Niš in the south of Serbia for a few years. I recall mom’s trembling voice crackling over the receiver sometime in March. Something has gone horribly wrong. There will be bombing. Take the first train home right away. Mom, what happened? You’re overreacting. Calm down. Right away, I said! For a few seconds, I was deprived of physical sensation and responsiveness. I was frozen to the point that I didn’t know what to tell my sister. We laughed when I finally did, concluding mom was blowing it out of proportions, as ever. She had been watching too many whodunits again. The thing is, she had a bad feeling, apart from listening to the news 24/7 and thought we’d be safer in a smaller town. Besides, she wanted us to be together. Eventually, we joined our parents because we knew they’d be worried sick if we hadn’t, hoping to shortly pick our lives up right where we’d left off.

The decision to bomb Serbia and Montenegro was ultimately made without Security Council authorization. U.S.-led NATO forces launched cruise missiles at targets in Yugoslavia, ‘plunging America into a military conflict that President Clinton said was necessary to stop ethnic cleansing (in Kosovo) and bring stability to Eastern Europe’ (source: Crisis in the Balkans, Chomsky). In a televised address, he explained that by bombing Yugoslavia, ‘we are upholding our values, protecting our interests, and advancing the cause of peace.’ Values, interests and peace. Wow, right?

“As President Bill Clinton and his coterie of ‘experts’ and media cheerleaders rejoiced in the first US ‘humanitarian’ bombs on Yugoslavia, Rep. Ron Paul was singing a different tune. ‘This cannot be a proud moment for America. Serbia has not invaded another country, but is involved in a nasty civil war with both sides contributing to the violence…Meddling in the internal affairs of a nation involved in a civil war is illegal and dangerous,’ he said on the US House Floor on March 24” (source: Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity). But, the missiles kept falling like rain. Needless to say, there’s more to this. The responsibility of the West at the time when the conflicts could have and should been prevented by supporting peace instead of military initiatives is indisputable. Let’s not forget that Milošević was once seen as ‘a factor of peace and stability in the Balkans.’

Once the party began, people started regularly sharing their most terrifying and funniest experiences under the bombs. The world went on spinning without us. I was 22, single and hopeless about life. Every evening when I’d turn in, I’d put on the headphones to muffle the sound of the planes. I made up my mind from the get-go that Bowie was ideal to die to.


 

* Originally published at Morality Park

JOURNAL OF A MOM – WEBER FOR TODDLERS

Without mommies in plain view, the shift in the authority figure somewhat changes so that some kids start practicing absolute authority and enforcing obedience. Whereas some abuse their physical strength to ensure superiority in the playground, others rule with absolute power based on their age, i.e. height, which boils to the same thing. Or they simply think they are right and you can’t make unequal things equal, can you? After all, ‘some animals are more equal than others.’

“Achieving a particular form of political order in any democracy depends on prevailing conditions ‘in which different forms of society cohere’ and different ways ‘in which consensus is achieved’ (Jeffry Ocay). Since a consensus is mainly reached by parents (or teachers or nannies), oppression and cruelty take its place when they’re not around and consequently achieving my kinda order is the goal of all goals, whether there’s a consensus or not. This normally implies the rule of law that all (or most) must obey, using all possible means to accomplish the goal, from open animosity to passive aggression, slamming, crying (with or without tears), punching, pinching, rolling, hiding, blackmailing, stealing and so on.

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The sociologist and philosopher Max Weber distinguished ‘three types of authority: traditional, legal-rational and charismatic, each corresponding to a brand of leadership operative in contemporary society.’ He probably didn’t have kids in mind when he coined the terms, but we’ll see that same rules pretty much apply in the playground too.

According to Weber, traditional authority implies ‘the presence of a dominant personality and it is the prevailing order in society that gives him the mandate to rule.’ Parents are dominant because they are parents. On the other hand, children in the play area frequently listen to (obey) other kids who are seen as apt by the majority, and because everyone else already does, so they just follow. I didn’t give my son B. the mandate to rule so it’s only natural that I should bitch when he presides at our home meetings (or elsewhere). A republic/parliamentary democracy is still a form of government that is nearer and dearer to my heart than a monarchy so, despite being my Little Prince, he does not automatically have a hereditary right to the throne. We’re not gonna abolish monarchy altogether, though, since ours is not the absolute, but the constitutional one (thank god). Tradition is tradition, right? Besides, it’s good to be the queen. However, what B. apparently does is copy my behavior and I can tell you he’s damn good at it. Or he just has a domineering streak. Hm…I’ll get back to that…

Second, Weber’s legal-rational authority is grounded in clearly defined laws. ‘The obedience of people is not based on the capacity of any leader but on the legitimacy and competence that procedures and laws bestow upon persons in authority.’ Having this in mind, it seems everybody who wishes to become president might as well do so, however insane, inept and inadequate, because the state institutions and laws say so. And we can’t question them, right? Kids, like adults, often follow not because of what leaders are capable of but because their ‘authority comes from widely accepted impersonal and impartial rules.’ The one who’s pronounced competent by say parents or other kids, not necessarily proving or having to prove their competence, may become the most reliable and trustworthy person to fix, open and close things in the future. As opposed to adults, children are not biased toward one over another. On the contrary, being open-minded, tolerant and anti-discriminatory, they give everyone equal chances to show what they can do and accept suggestions especially when coming from bigger and older guys. Apart from this, they are very practical. I saw you’re more successful and faster; I’ll step back and let you do it/show me. You have to admit it’s time-saving and more efficient in the long run (and intelligent too). After all, it’s all a part of the learning process and more than ok to be second best.

Last but not least, ‘charismatic authority is a trait that makes a leader extraordinary. This type of leader possesses the superior power of charisma to rally diverse and conflict-prone people behind him. His power comes from the massive trust and almost unbreakable faith people put in him.’ In the playground, like in the world of adults, such kids are often likeable, communicative, sociable, confident, charming, and above all popular. However, they might also be or turn into real despots, stingy, antagonistic, controlling, confrontational, intolerant of differing opinions and prone to oppressing their subjects (that is playmates) by for example not allowing them to climb the slide, pushing them down the slide, grabbing their miniature replicas of vehicles and silverware, while not sharing their own, screaming (to the disgust of their parents…or not): ‘It’s mine. I don’t want to share. I’m a miser.’ Weber’s charismatic authority has what he calls Herrschaft or ‘the power to compel people to obey’ so when the leader says loud and clear: ‘I am your voice,’ his supporters cannot but hypnotically nod and enthusiastically and loyally cheer: ‘Build the wall.’ Furthermore, charisma is, in Weber’s opinion, irrational. ‘Like the mystic, the charismatic leader is believed in because his message goes against common knowledge of how the world works.’ Luckily, he concludes, ‘charisma requires perpetual reanimation’ and is ‘temporary because, like magic, its appeal and its efficacy only last as long as it is seen to be successful.’

The bottom line is the whole society plays an active role in shaping an individual. Consequently, every child has the potential to become an alpha. Being a benevolent alpha parent is, on the other hand, quite normal. Being dominant in the relationship implies, among other things, being protective and comforting and should not be confused with being domineering. The alpha in a wolf pack is the one who protects the pack, not the one who bullies and intimidates.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what the childhood of notorious world leaders was like and how their parents acted when their needs weren’t met. So, here are a few tips for (future) parents to try changing bratty behavior, if possible, with an additional request not to judge parents by how their kids behave:

  • If your children defend their position by repressive means, tending to control almost everybody at home, rest assured, they’ll, unless you teach them differently, turn into control freaks one day, controlling everything in the state as well, should they show interest in becoming presidents. The question is whether they’ll become absolutists, unjust and cruel rulers, or usurpers, illegitimate ones.
  • If your kids show a tendency to be despotic, make sure you satisfy their need to be in charge every now and then by offering them creative alternatives to the bossiness. It’s all a game to them anyway so play along before it stops being funny. The crucial thing is that they get the attention they crave (your way, not theirs).
  • Mind how you talk in front of the kids. You can initiate a positive change by changing the tone in which you ask each other to do things around the house (yes, Bojana, you too). Instead of ‘Take out the trash already,’ why don’t you try something like ‘Hun, can you please…?’ It won’t hurt (always). Other times, you’ll probably be too mad to even bark an order, just putting the trash forcefully on the floor in hopes that he trips over it. There, I said it. Now, if you could see our trash can, I’m sure you’d be more supportive and understand why I have to nag. Now, shut up and keep listening.
  • Say yes whenever possible. Too many no’s may prove detrimental in the long run. Just as offering alternative sources of healthy foods if they prefer x to y, you should offer game alternatives to choose from. You can’t play with mom and dad’s toys, but why don’t you try this?
  • Use positive reinforcement to promote good behavior. Don’t punish bad behavior and failure. Concentrate on the process rather than the outcome. Good job, honey! How didn’t I think of that?
  • Anticipate problems by observing your kids, not to say spying on them, especially when they start bringing friends home: who, where, when, how. Someone’s always to blame for their disruptive/unusual behavior. You shouldn’t feel guilty. Look at democratic societies eavesdropping on the rest of the world and learn. If you’re caught red-handed, deny everything. If espionage becomes a bit too obvious, resort to transparency as your obligation to share information, tell your kids it’s for their own good and make the spy-bugs smaller.
  • Finally, try being effective democratic parents, whenever possible. Although democracy is not as flawless a system as many western governments present it, do not change it or, even worse, turn to tyranny. It is your duty as a parent to offer protection, love and guidance (discipline too) and promote tolerance and freedom of expression if you want your kid, family and society to thrive. Long-term peace, stability and equality can only be attained when everybody’s rights are respected. Why don’t we start with our children? That being said, we might just stop producing more loonies (than necessary), provided you’re not one, in which case we’re screwed, and electing more tyrants presidents in the future.

JOURNAL OF A MOM – UNBIASED LAWLESSNESS

Outdoor play areas for kids, when large and well designed, are pretty cool places when you think of it because children can jump and hide, shout and make a mess there without being prevented or criticized, because they are unbound and can unrestrictedly learn and flourish. But, there’s more to this than meets the eye.

Watching my son play in the playground made me realize his miniature world is nothing but a society as we know it, with its group of small people though sharing common territory, interacting and identifying with one another. In the world of adults, economic hardship creates feelings of powerlessness that more often than not draw people toward dominant and decisive (however morally questionable) leaders, instead of respected and knowledgeable ones. Although some parents fail to see or hate to admit it, our and their worlds are alike, both populated by a wide variety of individuals: superior and inferior, generous and selfish, shy, modest, undemanding and sharing, creative and original, self-proclaimed gods, populist, egotistic, authoritarian leaders, common people, followers, servants (obeying only those of the upper echelon), those who play by the book or by ear, those who enjoy being in the spotlight, those who like to keep up with the Joneses or tend to keep a low profile.

Furthermore, the family with children is a form of government in which all power is vested in a single ruler, or two sovereigns, depending on whether it consists of two bad cops or a good and a bad one. Be that as it may, their authority is supreme and unquestionable so there’s no point in wondering if we are absolutists (with little patience for shades of grey), always telling our kids what to do and what not to, who to listen to, what and how to eat, when to talk, what to say, where to go and where to poo. I know the answer already.

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On the other hand, it’s hard to be too giving and forgiving for many reasons. I like that my kid is bold, decisive, strong-willed and determined. B. generally likes company and it doesn’t mean that when he shows up, all present better disappear. However, his über-confident, overdramatic behavior and forceful personality can at times be quite embarrassing. He can be pretty assertive and assaultive on the swings or the seesaw or the slide for that matter where (I thought) rules of democracy abide. One thing I’ve learned in the meantime is there’s no government by the people where kids play. Consequently, just as we teach our little ones to take turns in conversation, we also need to show them how to share and how the whole turn-taking thing in the playground works. Sadly, some don’t since they obviously don’t believe in a fairer, more egalitarian society and, as someone has to, it’ll often be you if you want pushing down the slide, pulling hair, biting, and kicking to stop, whether it’s done to or by your kid. It’s not always easy to reach a truce, let alone a genuine one, but let’s say I’m more or less satisfied when it becomes bearable for all concerned or the ceasefire holds at least a few minutes…or seconds, to be more precise.

Luckily for small kids, they don’t know yet that language barriers can separate societies. By contrast, this microcosm of society is not restricted by them, among other things, because of how understanding, perceptive and compassionate children may be. They communicate on a whole different level than adults, verbalizing their displeasure both when it comes to them and their playmates, regardless of whether they know each other or have just met. Not only do they express deep awareness of the suffering of another but they also wish to relieve it, wiping their tears, hugging them or asking them or their parents what’s wrong.

Another good thing I’ve noticed spending plenty of time in the sandpit with toddles is the presence and acceptance of all the colors of the rainbow, that is an utter and complete absence of racism and xenophobia in their world. While there’s possessiveness and envy of another kid’s bigger and shinier toy, there’s no discrimination based on ethnicity, nationality, religion, appearance or disability. The society has yet to teach them hatred and prejudice, giving rise to inequality and aggression. Once they know how to properly inflict harm on each other, social integration, oftentimes achieved without a dialogue or the will to maintain peaceful social relations, will be complete. As opposed to sport and play areas, foul play is not always sanctioned in real life. Not that I blame the players. When the referee doesn’t send you off with a red card (preferably in the first half), you go on playing, with or without rules.

JOURNAL OF A MOM – RESTLESS HEARTED

In my previous post about my son B, I talked about our bad sides: having a short fuse, chronic impatience, stubbornness and ways of dealing with frustration. Now comes the good part. Maybe. You be the judge.

There are things the two of us absolutely adore and habitually put into practice, whenever.

We love puppies and often play with them. Though we don’t have one of our own, we’ll always find a victim in the street or parks we go to. Dogs over cats, of course! (Sorry cat lovers), whether they lick us, bark, howl, snarl or wag their fluffy tails.

We find Chopin soothing. There’s no better music to lull you to sleep, except in the evening when ‘Goodnight to you, goodnight to me’ will just do.

We are crazy about sand, and water. Leave us there and get lost. Don’t come back.

Our favorite pastime in the playground, besides playing in the sandpit, is the slide, and the swing (swinging at least 40 min till we fall asleep). While there, we might steal other kids’ toys (especially dumping cars, balls or sand toys) and flee the scene of a crime without being noticed and/or getting caught.

We have a soft spot for clocks and every time we see one, we’ll make sure everyone sees it by pointing it out and saying ‘clo…’ (k’s are so outdated anyway). Yes, we love pointing. Sue us! This includes planes and choppers, screaming aka aka, as well as trains. We’re completely nuts about trains (and elevators, riding up and down and pressing call buttons,…and cranes…and buses…and trucks, especially garbage ones. We’ve even been offered a position in solid waste management). FTR, we know all subway stations in the neighborhood and can unmistakably go to the nearest one from home (willingly) and back (reluctantly).

Our favorite places in the apartment are kitchen (foodies is right) and bathroom (loooove bubble baths, both alone or with mom or dad).

We love the sound of the rain on our bedroom window and could watch and listen to it for hours on end while mom sings: ‘Rain rain, go away.’

We enjoy brushing teeth together, swaying and singing: ‘Brush your teeth up and down,’ as well as toy theater with mom as the only/best actress.

 

When it comes to more abstract things, we’d say we value independence and unconventionality.

We go with the flow of life and are comfortable with ourselves.

We don’t profess to be free-spirited. We ARE free-spirited (and fun-loving, however impulsive).

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We like things our way and are fiercely unapologetic, as people often describe us.

We are not restricted by other people’s opinions and always have one of our own.

We’re allergic to bullshit. We have to speak our mind, one way or the other. It’s not that we don’t want to, we are simply not able to hold our tongue if we find something unappealing, untrue, stupid or boring (read: not in accordance with our standards). So we say directly what we think, that is, mommy does, while I (until I begin to say it loud and clear) will slap your face, pull your hair, take your toys, slam the doors, cry, scream at the top of my lungs, run around, run away, roll on the floor/ground, make a scene, stomp my feet, throw things around or break them down.

We don’t (can’t) pretend and are not trying to be mysterious. You see how we feel on our faces. Remember Meg Ryan in French Kiss? Happy, smile! Sad, frown! Use the corresponding face with the corresponding emotion!

When we don’t feel like doing something, however much we like it, we don’t do it. It’s ok not to be in the mood. Did we say we’re moody?

When we have nothing smart to say, we don’t say anything. We’ll start talking…one day. Don’t push us. We love doing things at our own pace.

Don’t underestimate us. We can do it and we will. In case we don’t or can’t, you will. Don’t overestimate us. This is stupid anyway. Besides, it’s your job. No objections, please.

OK, OK, we’ll say it. We are dominant and oftentimes order people around. That is, most of the time….OK, all the time. Jesus, didn’t we say not to push us?!

Don’t try to contradict us. We’re right. All. The. Time.

Last but not least, NO means NO. We won’t change our mind. If we ever do, it’ll be on a full stomach. Our demands are nonnegotiable. Period.