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

PUTTING OUT THE FIRE WITH GASOLINE (OR DID YOU CALL MOI A DIPSHIT?)

The Balkans is often referred to as a barrel of gunpowder because of its constant tensions and turbulence, which is something you inherit from your parents, like high cholesterol, and something you leave behind when you kick the bucket. Unless you learn to swim in its tempestuous waters, you stand a higher chance of drowning. If you are from down there, rest assured you’ll live in times of disorder, commotion and unrest, no matter what generation you belong to.

We were sitting in a jet, cruising at some 30,000 ft (9,145 m) somewhere above the coastal mountains of a better tomorrow when we began to shake, rattle and roll again. For a brief moment, it smelled of hope. It seemed as if someone had turned off the engine and let us glide down gently onto the runway. However, a short period of peace and quiet after the 1996-1997 protests was the calm before the storm since the whole place would soon turn into a mad house again.

Simmering tensions between Serbs and Albanians in Serbia’s (ex-) southern province of Kosovo kept getting worse, occasionally erupting into major violence. By Feb 1998, the attacks of the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against Serbian police stations triggered massive Serbian retaliation against the local population. 1998 cease-fire enabled the deployment of 2,000 European monitors. Nonetheless, the ‘breakdown of U.S.-Milošević negotiations led to renewed fighting which increased with the threat of NATO bombing and the withdrawal of the monitors’ (source: Yugoslavia – Peace, War, and Dissolution, Noam Chomsky). Voices of reason ‘warned that bombing would endanger the lives of tens of thousands of refugees believed to be hiding in the woods,’ predicting tragic consequences if NATO made it impossible for monitors to be present (source: Crisis in the Balkans, Chomsky). The crisis culminated in the Kosovo War of 1998 and 1999, during and after which Yugoslavia was once again sanctioned by the UN, EU and United States.

During the 14-month war, we were watching an old black-and-white film in which atrocities on a massive scale were perpetuated solely by THEM. The reality is impartial though, with massacres of civilians by both the separatist KLA and Serbian military, paramilitary and police forces: 34 individuals of Serb, Roma and Albanian ethnicity discovered by a Serbian forensic team near a lake, 45 Albanian farmers massacred, 80 Serbs found in mass graves, 48 Albanian civilians found dead, over 100 Serbian and Roma civilians kidnapped and placed in concentration camps, 47 of whom were killed, 19 Albanian civilians killed (including women, children and the elderly), 14 Serbian farmers murdered, 93 Albanians murdered, 22 Serb civilians murdered, their bodies cremated, 29 identified corpses of Albanian civilians discovered in a mass grave, 15 Serbs murdered, 18 corpses of Albanian civilians found, 20 Serbs murdered, their corpses thrown down wells, 25 male Serb civilians killed, 300 Albanian people killed, over 300 Serb civilians taken across the border into Albania and killed in a so-called ‘Yellow House,’ their organs removed and sold on the black market. Missing, presumed to have been killed, missing… Estimates ranging from 50 to more than 200 ethnic Albanians killed, more than 70 Albanian prisoners killed by prison guards, 100 Kosovo refugees murdered. Missing, murdered…missing… 5 Albanian leaders killed for collaboration by their own people, 23 Serbs and moderate Albanians tortured and killed in a concentration camp, 62 known fatalities , 47 people forced into a room and gunned down. Missing. Missing.…What did we miss?! Endless violations of international humanitarian and human rights law: use of excessive force, resulting in terror, rapes, arsons and severe maltreatments, looting of and forced expulsions from homes, destruction of villages, schools, healthcare facilities, monuments and religious sites (both churches and mosques), detention, persecution, kidnappings, deportations, well-poisoning, executions, killings by gunmen and grenade attacks on cafés and shops, concentration camps, mass graves, and cover-ups.

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Then came the Račak massacre, the mass killing of 45 Kosovo Albanians, taking place in the Albanian-inhabited village of Račak in central Kosovo in Jan 1999, which made a world of difference, or so it seemed. William Walker, the head of the Kosovo Verification Mission, condemned what he labeled ‘an unspeakable atrocity’ and ‘a crime very much against humanity.’

Our flight had been shaking vigorously for quite some time. Repeated bomb threats to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) led to the so-called elevator effect, with the stomach drop feeling during turbulence. All passengers were having heart-in-mouth experience, and although quite a few were complaining of an upset tummy, rarely taking their head out of a sick bag, Médecins Sans Frontières never showed up. Once again, we were left to our own devices. The world thought we hadn’t learned from our past mistakes and needed to study harder if we wanted to pass our human rights exam that semester, blabbing: Repetitio est mater studiorum. Repetitio est mater studiorum. Repetitio.

Our Pilot in command racked his brain all afternoon but couldn’t remember where he had put the book. He could have asked, of course, or borrowed it from the library. ‘How will I ever get a passing grade without the book and time to revise?’ he thought to himself. I could always resort to cheating. I’m bloody brilliant at it. However, the rules made by the Air Traffic Controller were clear: knuckle down and bow to the King of the world. Not like that. Lower your head. He knew he’d feel dizzy while bending over, so he decided to pass…People often turn to one another at times of crisis and we were no exception. We were not prone to despair when going through a hard patch. Despair comes later, when there’s peace and apparently nothing and nobody to fight. So, even though we were slammed against the cabin ceiling during turbulence, you’d rarely hear people screaming. Our Pilot and the cabin crew knew there would be casualties, they knew lots of passengers would suffer horrific injuries if they suddenly hurtled out of their seats, as they knew we’d be tossed across the plane no matter what we did or failed to do. Still, they were reassuring us everything would be alright provided we listened to the instructions in case of emergency and went on to play a movie, a new release. The Cinema of Europe isn’t particularly good at making bloody blockbusters or films with happy endings. Frankly, who needs Natural Born Killers, Martyrs and Rambos with so many violent thrillers, actions and horrors in real life, so gory, they’ll make your eyes water.

Some passengers acknowledged and praised our Boss’ will, if not means, to fight back, especially upon seeing he was held in scorn by his rival pilots who wanted him out of the game, which helped him win additional points with his fellow travelers. To be honest, he did check everyone for seat belts before turbulence (unexpectedly) hit but then went about his business shooting at NATO with his toy guns, thinking we were capable of standing up to the big shots. Despite the panic of flight attendants being thrown around, our Pilot decided to remain composed and not tell a soul he was regularly shitting his pants. Alas, ‘a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.’ It turned out the Pilot was indisposed. I don’t have it all together today, he said to the Tower. I have no intention of landing the plane yet. Try me again later when I have it all together. Little did he know that Big Daddy didn’t get a kick out of being called a fool before the whole world besides being ‘hypomanic’ who desperately needed another fuck so that everyone could forget about his petite interne once and for all. One thing you don’t do to Buddy, the Real Estate King, is ignore him. ‘He’s the sun; he’s the center of the universe. He needs to shine’ (source: Putting Bill Clinton On the Couch). What the King didn’t know (that is, pretended not to) was that this Pilot wouldn’t give up easily and would take immediate revenge by redoubling his attacks in Kosovo, which NATO, busy setting fire to yet another detached house, had no intention of stopping. Our Pilot didn’t however have the magnetic compass for navigation, nor was he planning to touch base with the world. He simply switched on the no smoking sign and the autopilot while we waited for the inevitable.

 

MORALITY PARK

The Balkans is often referred to as a barrel of gunpowder because of its constant tensions and turbulence, which is something you inherit from your parents, like high cholesterol, and something you leave behind when you kick the bucket. Unless you learn to swim in its tempestuous waters, you stand a higher chance of drowning. If you are from down there, rest assured you’ll live in times of disorder, commotion and unrest, no matter what generation you belong to.

We were sitting in a jet, cruising at some 30,000 ft (9,145 m) somewhere above the coastal mountains of a better tomorrow when we began to shake, rattle and roll again. For a brief moment, it smelled of hope. It seemed as if someone had turned off the engine and let us glide down gently onto the runway. However, a short period of peace and quiet after the 1996-1997 protests was…

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