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

SLEEPWALKING THE MINEFIELD

I bet you liked the seesaw when you were a kid. Remember the pleasure of riding up and down, up and down, but only enjoying it if your friend on the other side was of similar size and weight? Well, the seesaw in relationships between Albanian and Serb communities has never been much fun because one party always had the upper hand at one time or another. Pent-up emotions and inter-ethnic tensions have been a reality in Serbia’s (ex-) southern province of Kosovo for as long as I can remember.

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Fast backward. The late 1960s witnessed first protests by the Albanians who felt downtrodden as Islam had been repressed and the government, security forces, and industrial employment largely dominated by Serbs and Montenegrins. After a demand that Kosovo be made a republic, it gained major autonomy by the mid 70s, that is ‘its own administration, assembly, and judiciary, along with the membership in the collective presidency and the Yugoslav parliament’ and recognition of a Muslim Yugoslav nationality in Yugoslavia. As a result, ‘there was a massive overhaul of Kosovo’s nomenclature and police that shifted from being Serb-dominated to ethnic Albanian-dominated,’ which now meant harassing and firing Serbs big time. Our parents slept tight, sleepwalking without waking up.

The turning point in the relationship between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo occurred in March 1981 when Albanian students organized protests seeking that Kosovo become a republic within Yugoslavia. The University of Priština, in Kosovo’s capital of Priština, was the starting point of the protests. Kosovo’s cultural isolation within Yugoslavia and its endemic poverty resulted in the province having the highest ratio of illiterates in the country. What’s more, university education was no guarantee of getting a job and the prospects of a promising future remained bleak. Unemployment grew and so did nationalist sentiment. The demands of the Albanian students were both nationalist and egalitarianist. They wanted a different kind of socialism than the Yugoslav one, marked by semi-confederalism and workers’ self-management. However, the unrest was brutally suppressed by the police and army, with many protesters arrested and killed, which was followed by a period of political repression. As many as 226 people were put on trial, including students, convicted of ‘separatism’ and sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. Many Albanians, including deans, were fired, our parents stuck between illusion and denial. Politically speaking, the demand that Kosovo become the seventh republic of Yugoslavia was unacceptable to Serbia and Macedonia that saw a ‘Greater Albania’ in the making, encompassing parts of Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo itself.

Repression was present on both sides in 1981. Some 4,000 Serbs were reported to have moved from the province to central Serbia after the riots that resulted in several Serb deaths and the desecration of Serbian Orthodox architecture and graveyards. In short, the demonstrations in Kosovo were the beginning of a deep crisis in Yugoslavia that led to its dissolution a decade later. The government’s response to the protests sure changed the political discourse in the country in a way that significantly impaired its ability to sustain itself in the future. By the 1980s, the Kosovo Albanians constituted a majority in Kosovo and ethnic tensions continued with frequent violent outbreaks against Yugoslav state authorities. During the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of Serbs and Montenegrins left Kosovo, largely due to unfavorable economic conditions, and ethnic discrimination by the Kosovo Albanian government and population. ’57,000 Serbs have left Kosovo in the last decade,’ wrote the New York Times in 1982. According to Noam Chomsky (source: A Review of NATO’s War over Kosovo), “after the death of Tito, nationalist forces undertook to create an ‘ethnically clean Albanian republic,’ taking over Serb lands, attacking churches, and engaging in ‘protracted violence’ to attain the goal of an ‘ethnically pure’ Albanian region, with ‘almost weekly incidents of rape, arson, pillage and industrial sabotage, most seemingly designed to drive Kosovo’s remaining indigenous Slavs out of the province.” At the same time, an atmosphere that Serbs were the only jeopardized ones was being created in the rest of Serbia. We were panned out, snoring.

My generation was growing up and didn’t know or understand much of what was going on there in the 80s. We were sleepwalking through the Kosovo crisis, at least those who didn’t know anybody affected by it. We were busy putting out fires at home, looking for four-leaf clovers, and chasing the rainbow, busy blowing out candles on birthday cakes, busy being footloose, busy jumping rope, playing with marbles, building a house of cards and sandcastles, throwing snowballs at each other and eggs and sticky coal tar pitch on passers-by from the terrace, busy flying kites, riding bikes, roller skating, discovering and exploring caves, busy climbing cherry trees, writing to pen pals, sledding, organizing tennis tournaments, putting stars on top of Christmas trees, collecting napkins, badges, shells and memories. The whole country was busy leading its life, sleeping like a baby and dreaming. Nobody heard or wanted to hear the nightmares of those deprived of sleep.

With his visits to Kosovo, Serbian President Milošević will ‘upset the delicate balance that Tito so carefully sought.’ The incapacity to control Albanian separatist unrest in the province will prove detrimental in the long run, ending in a massacre on both sides, and the mass desertion of Kosovo. Under Tito, Kosovars had had a considerable measure of self-rule until 1989 when Milošević, who gained political power by pledging to discontinue the repression, responded brutally by abolishing Kosovo’s autonomy and establishing direct Serbian rule. ‘With his rise to power, the Albanians started boycotting state institutions and ignoring the laws of the Republic of Serbia, culminating in the creation of the Republic of Kosova, a self-declared proto-state in 1992, which received diplomatic recognition from neighboring Albania. Kosovo Albanians organized a separatist movement, creating what Chomsky calls ‘a parallel civil society,’ that is a number of parallel structures in education, medical care, and taxation (source: Crisis in the Balkans). Needless to say, they had all the encouragement from Western governments they needed. The ultimate goal of such civil disobedience was achieving the independence of Kosovo. It’s as if we had been sleeping all along and suddenly woken to find ourselves among a jaw-dropping horror film.

Like Serbia, I had always been a sound sleeper and used to fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Sleepless nights and restlessness set in when I moved away from my parents and swallowing sleeping pills became customary when reality knocked on the door. I used to be a sleepwalker and the memories of this phase, which lasted throughout my childhood and ended at some point in high school, are pretty vivid. When it comes to sleep talking, my recollections are mostly non-existent. Those who had a chance to peek at the workings of my brain in the middle of the night reacted differently. My mom had an awful time with me sleepwalking, often glancing into my sister’s and my room to check everything was alright. She used to picture me falling down the stairs, unknowingly hurting myself or leaving the house, though not always through the front door. Although I had the habit of saying I was going for a walk, luckily for everybody, I didn’t hallucinate of being Batman and kicking ass. I never did anything terribly wrong while walking in my sleep, but, now that I think of it, it might have been a solid defense if I had. Anyway, my mom was worried shitless, my dad mostly slept through the night and sis got a kick out of chatting with me and asking me questions. Interestingly, when I mumbled something nonsensically, I wouldn’t remember anything the following day. When you talk gibberish like that, rarely anyone in your proximity is able to make out what you’re saying so there’s no worry about accidentally revealing any dark secret while you snooze. But then, on and off, I’d talk in coherent sentences, answering questions, and actually having a dialogue. Most of the time, I’d just sit up, babble for a few seconds and then go back to sleep when told to. Sometimes, I’d wander around the house for a bit, open and close doors and closets or rearrange things before being walked back to bed. I recall waking everyone up in a hotel room in Slovenia, after colliding with the closet. I was scared, confused and disoriented as I couldn’t find the door, thinking we were at home. No wonder everything seemed uncomfortably unfamiliar.

Serbia, in union with Montenegro as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as of 1992, was groping in the dark, trying to maintain its political control over the province. With the formation of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), ‘an ethnic Albanian paramilitary organization,’ receiving large funds from Albanian Diaspora, and including many foreign volunteers from West Europe and ethnic Albanians from the U.S., a great number of the Kosovo Albanians became radicalized. Needless to say, the States informally backed the guerrilla KLA in order to destabilize Milošević. In 1997, the organization acquired a large amount of arms through weapons smuggling from Albania, following a rebellion which saw large numbers of weapons looted from the country’s police and army posts.’ The Serbian police and Yugoslav army response was brutal. In ‘97, international sanctions were once again imposed on FR Yugoslavia, this time because of the persecution of Kosovo’s Albanians by Yugoslav security forces. The whole nation had been sleepless and restless after years of crisis.

I was 20, and my sleep had been broken by my ‘night shifts,’ that is burning the midnight oil before exams. My favorite sleep talking story occurred around this time. My sister namely woke me up in the middle of the night during one of my monologues and I began to scream since I thought she was a wolf. Go figure. When I realized she wasn’t, I flopped back down and returned to sleep as if nothing had happened. I must have dreamed of being chased by wolves. In case you’re wondering, I sleep-pissed in bed once only while at university (you heard me right!) apparently while dreaming of taking a leak. They said my eyes were commonly open, or half open, whether I was sleepwalking or sleep talking, and my glassy ‘look right through you’ appearance must have seemed as if I had been haunted by a spooky ghost. Had my family made a video with a shaky cam (with me as the actress in a leading role) and added some special effects, post-production modifications and creepy music to it, we might have had a decent trailer for a genuinely disturbing horror film. No advancement in technology and quality though could have helped make a scarier movie than the one we were about to watch.

MORALITY PARK

I bet you liked the seesaw when you were a kid. Remember the pleasure of riding up and down, up and down, but only enjoying it if your friend on the other side was of similar size and weight? Well, the seesaw in relationships between Albanian and Serb communities has never been much fun because one party always had the upper hand at one time or another. Pent-up emotions and inter-ethnic tensions have been a reality in Serbia’s (ex-) southern province of Kosovo for as long as I can remember.

Kosovo pic.PNG

Fast backward. The late 1960s witnessed first protests by the Albanians who felt downtrodden as Islam had been repressed and the government, security forces, and industrial employment largely dominated by Serbs and Montenegrins. After a demand that Kosovo be made a republic, it gained major autonomy by the mid 70s, that is ‘its own administration, assembly, and judiciary, along with…

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THE SOUND AND THE FURY

Anyone who had a chance to first live blissfully in abundance and then touch bottom, experiencing at least some of the shit we went through, will surely remember it for the rest of their life because the formidable hurdles we were facing daily in 90s Serbia bordered surreal. Those who managed to keep their head above water were like skydivers who survived a 12,000ft (3660m) fall without their parachutes.

In order to explain the political climate in Serbia in the mid 90s, I need to go back in time. The late 80s witnessed squabbles between the Serb minority and the ethnic-Albanian majority in Serbia’s (ex-) southern province of Kosovo, considered ‘the Mecca and Medina of the Serb people.’ Many Serbs left never to return, while the remaining ones felt oppressed and abused by the Albanian leadership. The Kosovo issue dominated Serbian politics. Slobodan Milošević, a rising Socialist Party boss (SPS), became an overnight sensation, being ‘the first politician to break official party taboos about embracing nationalism. Jumping on the nationalist bandwagon and making himself the public champion of the beleaguered Serbs of Kosovo’ proved to be his ticket to absolute power. He said: ‘I will defend your rights.’ They cheered and nodded. He said: ‘I will restore prosperity.’ They cheered and nodded. He said: ‘I will protect you and defend Serbdom.’ They cheered and nodded. He said: ‘No one has the right to beat you.’ They cheered and nodded. Soon he was to become a hero of angry Serbs everywhere. Erratic time.

In 1990, Yugoslavia started following the model of political transition from a one-party system to a multi-party democratic one. The opposition openly rejected the communist and socialist regime and was strongly in favor of human rights, democracy and market economy. In June, it called for a street protest against SPS control over national media which ignored opposition altogether while glorifying Milošević’s ‘peace-loving’ initiatives. Over 70,000 peaceful protesters were dispersed. In the fall, mass protests were again organized in Belgrade, demanding a free and fair electoral campaign, the media coverage of opposition activities and the round table. Despite the charismatic leaders who were getting more and more popular and rallies across Serbia, the democratic opposition lost the battle (but not the war). Minimized time for opponents of the regime on TV (being denounced as Western stooges) and the absence of united opposition forces also contributed to the overwhelming victory of SPS in both Parliamentary and presidential elections.

In March ‘91, another street protest against President Milošević and his total control of the national media was organized in downtown Belgrade. Fury followed, the rally turning into a riot featuring vicious clashes between the protesters and the police and military, deployed in the streets to restore order. 100,000 citizens against tanks. Two people died and a few hundred were injured. Several prominent opposition officials were badly beaten and detained by the police and two media outlets considered unfriendly to the government banned. Civil fury grew high and the following day more people were in the streets. The government supporters responded by organizing a counter-protest. The rallies ended a few days later, after the opposition leaders had been released from police custody. Both the state TV director and the Minister of the Interior resigned. One victory at a time. Thanks to his fiery nationalist rhetoric, and total control of the national media, along with the JNA operations in Croatia (Yugoslav People’s Army), the popularity of President Milošević continued to grow. So did the fury of the conscious ‘few.’

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Fast forward to mid 90s. Upon enrolling in the university and spending a wonderful summer with my longtime boyfriend and friends, partying, loitering and dreaming (4 months without school), I moved away from my parents in the fall of ‘95. The war just finished (crime didn’t, though). The sanctions weren’t lifted until the next year, which meant more power outages accompanied by the calming effects of candlelight. The post-war period was no less challenging. It was a time of scarcity and supporting two students financially was not easy. Students who pay for college fees themselves are extremely rare in Serbia. It is your job to study, pass exams and have fun, whereas it’s your parents’ duty to pay your bills. Things get tougher if you’re a big art lover who didn’t want to miss a single movie, festival, exhibition, concert or theater performance. Unfortunately, my sister and I were not among the lucky bastards whose tuition was covered by the state, but were fee-paying ones. Even though the fees were not that high (no loans, no debts), the price of printouts most definitely was. We didn’t have the convenience of the Internet back then, which would surely make things cheaper and our life easier. Books and textbooks, on the other hand, were either way too costly or hard to obtain so we’d spend hours in the library reading dozens of them so as to copy/paste a few useful pages, which required hard manual labor. Once the work was done, we wouldn’t stay there to study as we preferred the comfort of our home. The library atmosphere never grew on us. There’s nothing cozy, agreeable and intimate about it. Watching other people staring at their books, while you can’t concentrate yourself since you’re too busy checking out their backpacks, glasses, their hair and clothes, and being distracted by a fly buzz, is utterly depressing and unproductive in the long run. Our bodies are so not made to be sedentary. Besides, deafening silence for studying was never my thing. I needed noise, I needed the fridge, the kettle, the sounds of the street, our room overlooking a most peculiar neighbor. I needed our saggy cushions and old ugly sofa where I’d assume most unusual positions for studying you can think of (back down, legs up the wall, headphones on). I missed the radio, shared laughter and friends stopping by for a chat, a cup of coffee or our aunt’s hot tomato soup. I craved my common workplace distractions.

Oh, the bliss of student life! Socializing, partying, and having fun day in day out, meeting new people all the time, pairing up with the best and the worst, the most generous and the most envious people you will ever meet, the best of the best sharing the same premises with the scum of the earth, daring to be different, finding your tribe, befriending a withdrawn Bosnian girl in the last row who lost her dad in war and had no idea where her mom and brother were, sharing food, dreams, books, passions, ideas, thoughts, showers and beds, dropping the mime, learning to ‘be yourself (everyone else was already taken’), living in a tight-knit community buzzing with life, sleepovers, inducing euphoria with all things available, Bowie’s Earthling 24/7, resetting perspectives, learning from and exchanging views with brilliant professors and assistant professors, putting up with mediocrity and an inferiority complex impossible to treat, student discounts, fare evasion, mom’s parcels with sour cabbage rolls, stuffed red peppers, money, and crepes with honey and walnuts sent regularly by bus, resorting to scratchcards when broke, winning (big enough to cover the costs), losing, taking part in every single radio game show in the city (answering questions about literature and film, being rewarded with the best prize ever: a book or a concert/theater ticket otherwise impossible to afford), mastering negotiation skills and sweet talk: talking our (read: my) way past bouncers every fricking time, cramped trains back home: using bribery, students and railroad officials in the same sentence, early English literature, an introduction into Canadian-Australian studies, Romanticism, American writers, contemporary literature, the (almost) Complete Works of Shakespeare, cooking your own food, having others cook for you, leading a life without a washing machine, giving up on the idea to kill the black mold, continuing to hope it won’t kill you (too soon), placing mouse traps around the house, thinking of the ways to outsmart a smart mouse, being outsmarted, enthusiasm, attending lectures worth attending, missing those worth missing, catching up, lacking motivation, a recommended daily intake of lecithin for focus, attention and concentration improvement, resorting to cleaning the house from top to bottom to let off steam, scrubbing the grout lines in the bathroom with a toothbrush because every nook and cranny needed to be clean (read: finding yet another excuse not to study for exams), workload, duties and obligations, procrastinating, locking ourselves in before exams without leaving the house for days (it was about time!), stress before a midterm, learning to cope with anxiety, meditation: relieving pain by changing your mind, making room for more happiness, reading and writing, listening and turning a deaf ear, passing and failing, facts to remember, facts to learn and forget, making your own decisions, flunking semesters on purpose to have more time for having a good time (infuriating teachers and pleasing yourself), standing by your choices, prioritizing, living your life, temptations, learning the hard way, dealing with emotional memories, being taught not to bottle up emotions (then forgetting), finding people keen for a talk anytime, joining a hiking club, going hiking, going swimming, first job, first salary spent on a ski trip and a bike, biking in and around the city with sis on a daily basis, getting in shape, sharing super sweet dessert combos afterwards to boost our energy levels (fuck getting in shape!), stage diving, lighters held up at concerts like fireflies in the dark (his hand around my sweaty waist), the addictive darkness of freezing movie theaters (a weekly/daily hotshot), a peaceful sense of intimacy, legs touching under the table, pulling the blanket over our heads, enjoying the silence interrupted by grunts, sighs, and groans, the noise of impetuous passion, climaxing, being present and fading to black, sinking into speechless oblivion, sharing an enthusiastic neighbor’s choice of music and boyfriends, investing in good earplugs, coffees and  Turkish delight under a linden tree, staying up all night, sleeping in the following day, a regular knock on our window, pressing the social ‘refresh’ button. Lifelong friends and memories. Feeling adult, feeling appreciated, feeling worthless, feeling like a piece of shit. Rebuilding self-esteem. Morning chats over coffee, late night dinners by the old wood burner, cigarette smoke filling the kitchen, and crackling fire on a cold damp evening. Don’t fall asleep. We need to keep the fire burning.

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It’s the fall of 1996. Days are noticeably shorter, while nights are getting colder and colder. Serbian local elections held in November are followed by allegations of widespread voter fraud. It seems very likely President Milošević will reject the accusations as preposterous. Again. However, students have something important to say this time.

Fury and frustration have been piling up for quite some time, seeking ways of breaking free. The long sound of silence gives the impression of ripeness. We are ready, willing and able to speak up. ‘The sound is the fury’; the fury is a change. ‘The grave hopeless sound of all voiceless misery under the sun’ is about to break away.

POETIC JUSTICE

There are problems that challenge our ingenuity. There are events that challenge our attention. There are people that challenge our beliefs. And then, there is art that challenges the imagination, touches the heart and engages the brain.

It started with a challenge set up by Brooke who dared Tom to upset the universe by inviting him to take part in a poetry game. Both earthquakes brought about by their poems resulted in damage of varying severity with violent shaking extending to far-off locations. The ground shaking is expected to cause landslides, and avalanches in days and weeks to come. The cup was then passed to Wulf whose poem was felt across great distances, apparently thousands of miles from the epicenter. The ground opened up and there were numerous instances of severe injuries after people had fallen into fiery pits. He then passed it to Susan whose poem led to a deadly quake, with a warning made only minutes before it struck, causing total destruction and most likely permanent changes in ground topography. The cup, one of the lucky few survivors, was passed to me yesterday evening. I’m still wondering how I made it.

I am honored beyond words to have been chosen to join this wonderfully unique tribe. I like big challenges and they rarely come much bigger than this. You set a high bar, my dear friends. Please take into account the fact that I was in junior high when I first attempted at writing poetry. Needless to say, this is when my endeavor to be something I was not ended.

Anyway, this is my first poem ever since. So, be gentle.

Let’s challenge the rapids together, my fellow rafters, shall me?


 

WHERE I’M FROM

I am from witches. I am from bitches
I am from demons. I am from ghosts
from cockroaches and from moths
from snakes and from dragons
from seraphims with flagons
I.AM.

I am from water and from flights
from eastern darkness and southern light
from northern distance and western might
from betrayals and from trusts.
I am from smiles and from frowns
from flaws and from scars
of perseverance and wishful thinking I am composed
I wish, I wish…
of non-perfection. I.AM.

Once upon a time, I was killed from the air.
Big Daddy’s whim.
An attack with a knack by someone with a flair for external decorating
someone who didn’t care about fellow Earthlings in a kingdom far far away
you’re not my masters nor the heirs to the throne of the world
you who blare up in the air, paired up with like-minded spirits. Beware, for
you’re just numbers for many out there. We shall all die one day.
Despair no more. We’re square.

I was stuck with a needle, I was tied to the bed
I lost my head (too much to mention)
aching, I said,
I need a med
I bled, I shrank, a shadow of my former self
oftentimes I fled (too much unsaid)…
Until one day I saw a flickering light ahead
and thought: ‘Drop dead!’
I’m off to get some French bread.

I’ve traveled afar, but
was out of range and out of reach
out of touch
away and apart, broken asunder, disjointed, disconnected, split in half, torn to shreds.
Touched by new friends. Strangers once. Skinheads for all I care.

I am from my son, from my women and my men,
from a profound silence, a profound chasm,
from profound sleep awoken
A profound thinker who renounced reason (sees no treason)
howling at the Moon. The rooster going cook-a-doodle-doo!
at the crack of dawn, ah bon?

I’ve dived to the ocean depths and aspired to great heights
I’ve touched the bottom
I’ve reached for the stars
I am not from here, I am not from there
I’ve seen paradise and been through hell.

I am from connections, separations
taking action to desperation
I am recollections. I am retrospections;
from equations to tax evasions
from elections, masturbation;
invaded, misdirected.
I am the stroke of a pendulum repeated in a back-and-forth motion.
A request I am
Redirected to a different department.
I am confessions over coffee
From a connection to an obsession
One Direction
One Conviction
A black Caucasian with a Persuasion. I.AM.I
who cries

Fuck colonialism, imperialism, absolutism, fascism, nationalism, radicalism, terrorism
Fuck racism, sexism, immoralism, determinism, egoism, ageism, heterosexism, classism, ethnocentrism, plagiarism, hypothyroidism and veganism
Fuck communism, fuck capitalism
Fuck ME baby, please fuck me! (Oh, fucking hell!)
Hail altruism, pacifism, humanitarianism, criticism, hedonism, onanism, conceptualism, if you will.
Atheism or deism? (If God were a DJ)

I am from sensibility to utter nonsense
from the utter limit, I utter a growl. I utter a ‘no.’
Utter bliss. I see an utter fool that is me.
Utterly in love with words. In love with the silence.
In love with the absence, in love with the presence.
In love with the Sun, over the moon.

I am yours but don’t fucking belong to you
I am myself, and you are too.


 

Aftershock…after aftershock…after aftershock. The ground is weak and giddy long after a sequence of strong earthquakes prompted by their poetry. So far, it has been shaken by an idealist, a visionary, a romantic, a philosopher, and a realist/wishful thinker.

It’s my turn now to pass the cup to the next poet. I spy with my little eye…..(I can feel seismic waves traveling through the Earth already)…

… a star-gazer.

Everyone’s a story, born, unfinished. What’s yours Tanya?