NATION & DECORATION (Part 3): Basilike Pappa & Bojana Stojcic

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Do you have a feeling your life is too hectic and out of control? Do you sometimes wish you could get off the rollercoaster and slow things down? Do you crave a refuge where you can have alone time and unwind whenever you please?

Our prominent designers will be more than happy to assist you with suggestions on a full house reno, including advice on how to create your own private retreat in your home. Your only task is to trust our choices, plan hours of pure enjoyment, turn on the music (nothing noisy and distracting) and let your hair down. Vogue is capricious, like weather, but style lasts forever. We will do our best to help you find a signature one because once you have it, it is there to stay so it better be good.

Battleship Potemkin (we’re going down down down)

Remodeling basements might be a daunting task. Untidy, gloomy and uninhabitable, they frequently convince homeowners to shift their focus elsewhere. However, the basement has come a long way from being merely a dank storage space that rarely sees the light. The modern one balances between aesthetics and functionality so it has to not only look and feel right but also be suitable for a variety of purposes. Here are some ideas that will help transform it into a sanctuary and a valuable asset to your property.

Learn from the worst, as Hitler and Goebbels, and turn interior design into propaganda and your home into a public-relations campaign. A well-decorated basement will enable you to sell yourself better, erasing all the bad connotations and building the myth of a man of culture and taste people can trust.  Let it serve as a friendly façade to disguise your political objectives and strategic goals, hide your hostility, and fool the general public. To accomplish this, convert it into a home theater room that meets requirements for sound, lighting and comfort. Remember to be generous to movie people if you want to be the leading actor in a blockbuster hit about a just society fighting outside international oppression, vicious and murderous. A cellarette for storing bottles of alcoholic beverages, obtainable in various shapes and designs, is something kids will love. (Make sure you introduce them to the bar on time so that they can respect you more when the time comes. Mind you, young age is no excuse for sobriety). What could be more fun and educational than observational learning which requires a social model such as a parent, a teacher and/or the nation’s paterfamilias inclined to vice and stereotypes, apart from justifying date rape, glorifying bullying and mobbing and boosting jingoism?

You may also wish to make an office space out of your basement by furnishing it with filing cabinets, an L-shaped desk, an office chair, a phone unit, and a laptop, convenient for watching child porn or talking dirty with busty blondes. A game room with multiple computers and different-sized speakers is another popular option, particularly when the man of the house needs a man cave to call his own. Just imagine inviting your buddies over for an all-night Bolsomito 2K18 marathon and fighting the evil of communism and corruption by attacking women, minorities and LGBTQ people. Oh bliss!

Our acclaimed experts propose saving some room for a storage area as well to avoid your home appearing disorderly. A good organization is half the job done so why not make a list:
•    Items to store behind closed doors: fears, repressed desires, insecurity, self-pity, shame, aggression, jealousy, an inferiority complex and a small penis
•    Items to store on open shelves: hatred toward people who hold different political or religious views, generalizations, discrimination, manipulation, opportunism, primitivism, snobbery, cognitive and confirmation biases

Cling tight to convictions that give your life meaning, such as picture-perfect faith and allegiance to nation, by settling on black and white color schemes. Applying the same color to walls, moldings and ceilings while painting them with a very broad prejudice brush, will result in a false consensus and convey the impression that the barriers that are walls seemingly disappear. Such a choice is prevalent in houses where one thinks the collective opinion of their own group matches that of the larger population. Be that as it may, this is your home so the rest can shove it.  A neocolonial revival works miracles with the redecorating too, our fave trend being wall-to-wall carpeting for an extra sense of uniformity as the finishing touch.

Last but not least, don’t forget to make room for law and order, that is the laundry corner suited for washing your dirty linen, because cleanliness is next to godliness. In case of basement moisture, which encourages mold and damages floors and walls, threatening to destroy the foundation of the house, clear gutters and fix footing drains. After you have successfully drained the swamp, your home will emerge as centralizing Babylon and you a liberator-messiah leader who may go back to chants of the self-proclaimed righteous, worldly prosperity and godly providence (for in god we trust).

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Triumph of the Will (we’re going up up up)

When the spirits are low, the discrepancy between your actual and ideal self, along with the consequences of Paris Agreement withdrawal, health plans and playing god, can lead to anxiety and emotional pain, feeling vulnerable, incompetent, and even stupid. When all hell breaks loose, consider the attic where you might shut yourself off, ignoring appeals for help, and find your way back to your old self – immoral, vain, über-confident, offensive, ignorant, faithless-blaming, and power- and blood-thirsty. That being said, the loft has the potential to become a spot under a shady tree, your favorite hideaway from too much reality where you can regularly stimulate your genitals to vent and get your shit together.

Many of us go for years without setting foot in the attic that is more often than not either empty or full of clutter, dust and mold on our boxes, treasure chests, emotions, thoughts and personality. Unless we make a habit of decluttering it, the mess could lead to poor energy efficiency, pest and memory infestations, and overall damage to insulation and psyche. Given that mold may give rise to mood swings, increased verbal fighting, poor empathy, insight and boundary awareness, you should start the cleaning adventure ASAP by taking a few steps our designers propose.

First, put on gloves to protect your hands as they have a tendency to get dirty when committing filthy and immoral actions. Second, mold, like other people’s suffering, is disgusting and unnecessary to look at. Since it is probably contagious, you need to take measures to prevent the spread of disease and guilty conscience. Put on a face mask for the sake of sadism revisited, preservation of personal pureness and your country’s continued existence at the expense of someone else’s misery. Finally, beware of roof and news leaks. Information embarrassing political opponents is always welcome as opposed to the one causing harm to both your reputation and national security. Make certain you fix the roof and check for stains on the ceiling to avoid a potential disaster to the whole house. You also ought to attempt to illuminate the place by using soothing orange or light green, ideal for a neat and clean-cut appearance and a fresh new start. Furthermore, our professionals recommend installing drop-down stairs, rather than adding a fixed stairway, and putting a ‘Please go away, I don’t care’ sign on the attic door, subtly letting intruders know you are disturbed already.

When it comes to selecting furniture, our team would choose simplicity: a bed, a nightstand, a blow-up doll you will want to put a ring on and a loveseat, great for tucking under a knee wall, and meditating on the holy trinity of your Achievements, Ambitions and Aspirations, as well as making taxes anything but simple, transparent, flatter, and fair. In addition, putting the bed under a skylight will create an impression that you sleep under the stars while contemplating poverty, starvation, wars, school shootings, peaceful resolutions and violence prevention…or, on second thought, excessive food, drug and alcohol consumption with lots of booty shaking, backroom hookups and no drama. As you are thinking of the ways to earn more money, win the public to your side and use media to win elections, one thing is certain – the attic room will undoubtedly make you feel closer to god.


 

I hope you have started reading Basilike Pappa’s Silent Hour. Now do me a favor and read this and this. I must have read them 10 times already and just can’t get enough. I told you she’s addictive.

Photography: Seph Lawless

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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YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY

The 1990s were the time of an unstable political situation in Serbia, heavy economic and political sanctions enforced by the international community, hyperinflation, a large decline in production and employment, a public health crisis, a huge impoverishment of the population, and an influx of over 850,000 forced migrants (refugees and internally displaced persons), which inevitably put a strain on people’s nerves. It was difficult to say no to negativity that sucked many a man dry so the fact that quite a few lost their raison d’etre came as no surprise. A total of 300,000 young educated people emigrated from Serbia during the first two war years, whereas as many as 16,620 took their own life in the war-torn 90s, with the highest number of suicides occurring at the time of the culmination of the crisis connected to the disintegration of Yugoslavia (1991-1993) (source: ResearchGate).

Back then, people were lucky not to starve to death thanks to food obtained from rural households. In addition, our moms and grandmas were constantly making home-made bread. In times of crisis, people learn to be resourceful to survive. The 1990s in the Republic of Serbia provided favorable grounds for a great number of illegal businesses or activities conducted in the so-called gray economic area. The smuggling of wardrobe, cosmetics and canned food from neighboring Romania and Bulgaria was flourishing. I remember some strange soaps, and toothpastes we used and awful canned fish we ate all the time. Gasoline purchased from across the border was obtained in plastic bottles or 2.5/5GL (10/20L) containers in the streets. Although there was no legal import of cigarettes during the embargo, a market of low-quality and fake cigarettes, alcohol, and various street drugs took its place. Of course, smugglers and dealers made a big profit. The sanctions also affected industry greatly with numerous companies recording tremendous losses, which resulted in mass layoffs. Who didn’t dare to smuggle or wouldn’t buy smuggled goods could not survive, so the violation of the law became justified.

One of the features of the time was a specific way of conducting cash exchange operations. Black market currency trading was prevalent, cash being mainly exchanged by street dealers who handled large amounts of money. Basically, they would purchase foreign currency in banks at the official exchange rate and then sell it at a significantly higher one, thereby earning large sums of money. Citizens were not only content for obtaining more money but, more importantly, preventing it from losing value because of being transferred into foreign currency on time, mostly Deutschmark (DM). In 1993, the German mark was worth a thousand billion dinars on the black market and practically became the only means of payment.

The U.N. embargo on the import of weapons was applied to all opposing sides in the war. However, this did not represent much of a problem since the civil war in Yugoslavia drew an extensive network of arms depots already in the country. According to a State Department official, the Yugoslav military was probably the best armed in Europe, aside from the Soviet Red Army. Before the fighting erupted, our arms industry had produced most of the Yugoslav military’s weapons and was also one of the top world’s arms exporters. Furthermore, the conflict proved a magnet for the world’s shadowy arms dealers, with a weapons flow difficult to trace (source: The New York Times). Needless to say, organized crime in Serbia grew enormously during the collapse of Yugoslavia when local criminals plying their trade in Western Europe returned home to take advantage of the chaos.

Stability, certainty and comfort seemed to have belonged to the past, while archetypal heroes – honest, hard-working and noble people – were seldom held in high regard. The never-ending war, financial and existential crises were accompanied by the crisis of morality and values, creating new heroes to be imitated and looked up to, along with new ethics and rules of conduct. Not rarely, the meaning of life was radically redefined and a new reason for existing found. Before long, antiheroes, embodied in crackheads, loafers and lowlifes, became new role models for the young. The reality their parents were facing was harsh and the choice between being an outsider or joining the new elite and its values seemed an easy one for some.

Plenty of felons took part in wars, joining paramilitary forces. Both big shots and small time crooks earned a reputation as scavengers, feeding on people’s material possessions and confiscating everything left behind by those who had to leave their homes in Bosnia and Croatia. In spite of this, the members of the criminal underworld were frequently perceived as tough and uncompromising people, ready to get to grips with a terrifying reality. I’ve read an amazing research paper called ‘Social Context and the Rise of Antiheroes’ in which a sociologist and a criminologist with expertise in social psychology ‘analyze the development of social heroes, as well as the substance, functions and dichotomies of heroism’ in Serbia in the 90s. In their opinion, in times of crisis, people often turn to biologically powerful individuals who are believed to be able to survive in difficult times. It is to be expected, they explain, that we then do not admire poets but warriors who are able to defeat the enemy, be it internal or external ones (the neighboring peoples). In the absence of a legal state and rule of law, tribal perceptions of justice were reanimated. The overwhelming feeling of disappointment and powerlessness pushed people towards the mythical and imagined, romanticizing criminals and turning the negative hero into a constructive social one. Their anti-heroism was thus perceived as a lack of respect for the given reality, and ‘a rebellion against the deficiencies of the existing system.’ They were ‘our’ protectors from ‘the others,’ fighters against evil and social injustice, defenders of raison d’état, and patriots ‘bleeding for the common good. Rebels with a cause.’

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During their ‘heroism’ in Bosnia and Croatia, mobsters continued with intense criminal activities in Serbia, buying real estate, coffee shops, nightclubs, restaurants, etc. from the money they ‘earned.’ I don’t think they questioned anything; they just followed their instincts that were obviously telling them to steal and kill so as to indulge in all worldly pleasures at disposal. What frustrated decent people most was the fact that lawbreakers were given the status and reputation of national heroes. They understood the importance of the media very early, having a great deal of journalists on their side to glorify them; therefore, each had a carefully built image. Our ears were filled with their commitment to sport, attractiveness, discipline, dedication to family, Orthodox Christianity and tradition; we listened about invulnerable, unstoppable, unbeatable and uncatchable guys to whom cunning came as second nature. Of course, we shouldn’t underestimate the intention of the state to divert people’s attention from the real problems. Stories of gruesome crimes were replaced by odes to successful businessmen and ‘savers of the people.’ The national television spoke the language of soap operas day in day out. At the same time, they were ‘a prodigious and attractive consumer model that at the time of general scarcity had the image of success and dictated trends.’ A portrayal of bad taste at its best.

Needless to say, nationalism was extensively used by the political elite in Serbia in order to justify the widespread conflict and maintain absolute power. Furthermore, the political and state leaders utilized the chaos in the national economy for the ruthless theft, ripping the state-owned enterprises to shreds. ‘The beginning of privatization practically represented the legalized form of illegal enrichment of the privileged managerial lobby and the political and economic elite.’ Economic inequality was already visible in the second half of the 80s, while the gap between the rich and the poor skyrocketed to extreme levels in the early 90s. Both vieux and nouveau riche used financial hanky-panky and illegal distribution of humanitarian aid, military, and military medical supplies, opening offshore bank accounts in tax havens. Many ‘reputable’ business people became filthy rich upon stepping out of state-owned enterprises and founding their own companies, along with entering politics which additionally secured their position, and guaranteed the continued pursuit of personal interests.

With crime booming, lots of illegal weapons were in the streets, brought from the war by organized crime groups, involved in gunfights, robberies, aggravated assaults, kidnappings and liquidations. 90s Serbia witnessed thousands of brutal killings, with culprits and controversial businessmen dropping like flies. On top of it, numerous government officials were assassinated. Journalists too, despite the fact that some were under police surveillance at the time. Everybody who dared to unmask a connection between organized crime and the authorities, or expose corruption in judiciary and law enforcement was proclaimed a national traitor, not rarely suffering abduction, threat, torture and/or assassination. None of these murders were ever resolved, nor were the perpetrators captured. Once ‘the safest city in Europe,’ Belgrade became a city with the most unsolved murder, fraud and embezzlement cases.

People were desperate and needed to believe in something, which made them an easy target for innumerable scumbags and cheaters that appeared in the 90s, and spread like an epidemic. Namely, psychics, mediums and fortune tellers were constantly occupying the media, robbing people of their money and dignity. Unbelievable supernatural powers they were thought to possess were demonstrated using various cards, pendulums, beans or crystal balls. The majority of citizens were making ends meet. They were hopeless, frustrated, vulnerable and susceptible to deception and the promise of a future full of hope too tempting. While the Serbian economy was dying away, and the existing banks experiencing widespread closing, an assurance that better days lay ahead was embodied in two energetic middle-aged individuals, and directors of private banks, founded in ‘91/’92. They offered a stupendous return for money: 15% on a 30-day deposit of foreign currency such as German marks or US dollars, 280% on a 6-month deposit of Serbian dinars. One such bank was at one point offering 160% interest rate per month. Serbia was thrown into a savings frenzy.

A sad realization that banks were set up by opportunistic criminals supported by the state and President Milošević himself came too late. People were losing it. We can’t blame them. It’s easy to be smart now on a full stomach. The government needed to fund the foreign trade deficit and that’s why such crooks were invented. Some citizens invested as much as 100,000DM; however, when bankruptcy was announced, they had to say goodbye to their money. Many a man who fell for the fraudulent banks were left homeless. Billions of German marks were coaxed out of the people’s mattresses in less than 2 years. The state started returning the debt to the deceived in 2002, the process lasting until 2016. Only a small sum of money was found after the bankruptcy. It was never determined where the rest of the money ended up.

In 1994, almost 40% of the population in Serbia were below the poverty line. The unrestricted printing of money was stopped that year but the consequences of the disastrous economic policy were visible many years afterwards. The Dayton Peace Agreement, reached in November that year by the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, helped bring the war to an end. I graduated from high school the following year. I was 18 and full of hope.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Bojana, are you ready to go on? Alright.

I want you to focus again and try to remember everything, even things you forgot, wanted to forget and think you don’t remember. You limbs are getting heavy…heavier. It feels as if your hands and fingers were made of lead…You are sinking into perfect relaxation. I’ll count backwards now. 10, 9, 8…Inhale. Exhale.7….deeper still…6…let it all go now…5. Still drifting down…4, 3, 2…You feel this heavy relaxation in all parts of your body…deep and misty…Allow yourself to relax. Open your mind and your heart. Unburden…1.

Tell me what’s going on.

 

It’s Sunday afternoon, May 4, 1980 and we’re enjoying our weekend. The TV screen goes black for a few seconds. A statement is read live on national TV:

Comrade Tito has died. His great heart stopped beating at 3:05 PM.’

I’m 3. ‘Mom, why are you crying? Mom, don’t be sad. Is it me? Did I do something wrong?’ I’m too little to understand, too little to remember. Scenes of mass crying in the streets and during the live broadcast of a soccer match. The whole country is mourning Tito’s demise, expressing numbed disbelief and promising to remain loyal to his policy. He is buried in Belgrade, Serbia, in the House of Flowers a few days later, in the presence of 209 delegations from 127 countries, 700,000 people and a direct television broadcast of the funeral procession in 58 states. Tito’s funeral is noted as the most attended presidential funeral in the history of mankind to that time. To date, 17.5 million people have visited the Mausoleum.

Tito’s regime outlives him by as many as 10 years. An average Yugoslav lives in blissful ignorance throughout the 80s, that is the one who has a job. Life is comfortable. My family travels a lot: France, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Greece, Egypt. Little do we know that in a few years from now everything will fall apart. No one sees an economic collapse and civil unrest on the horizon. Nobody could have predicted such a downfall, really.

The mid 80s are challenging time for a country poising precariously between economic welfare and social catastrophe. Yugoslavia is falling into heavy IMF debt due to the large number of loans taken out by the regime. Another concern is the unemployment rate, severely aggravating in the second half of the decade.  Self-management ultimately drops the ball by the end of the 80s because of its bureaucratic degeneration and authoritarian political structure, where the seemingly autonomous working class has always played second fiddle to strong leaders, accepting their decisions uncritically. Basically, CEOs have been responsible to higher CEOs, instead of workers’ councils, and have as a rule had strong political ties. Knowing that the party has been god of all gods there, I’m sure you get the picture. What is more, after Tito’s death, political elites promote the idea of republican or ethnic working classes, as opposed to the united Yugoslav working class advocated by the late president. In other words, republics and autonomous provinces favorize their own working class by for example giving their workers inordinate wage increases, which creates even a bigger gap between the more developed and underdeveloped republics. The regional inequalities result in an economic crisis which further leads to a deterioration of the living standard. Let me put it into perspective for you. The scope of work is decreasing, companies are becoming insolvent, low wages, unsteady paychecks, lower wages, minimum wages, no paychecks AT ALL, millions are behind on bills, workers’ motivation is non-existent, work discipline zero, efficiency fictional. The outcome: the end of the movie for self-management. It was nice while it lasted. Two thumbs up for workers’ councils that survived for 40 years. Wow. Honestly. No kidding. I guess it would have been too much to ask…

However, there’s another problem. Besides the financial crisis, there’s also the crisis of system legitimacy after Tito’s death, with the long-simmering revival of nationalism coming to a boil by the end of the 80s. The introduction of self-management and decentralization was meant to encourage the liberalization and democratization of the mutual space. However, market competition turned the companies and republics into competitors, which then made republics’ party oligarchies act first as the guardians of republic interests and then the nationalist ones in the 80s.

With Tito’s death, Yugoslavia’s 6 constituent republics gain more autonomy, with a rotating presidency. The main issues troubling the elites in the post-Tito era turn primarily into a Serbian-Slovenian debate, marked by a growing divergence in the ‘national question.’ Confusing time. Before long, the fragile union he held together starts to unravel. The forces of nationalism he kept under control are unleashed, culminating in a brutal three-sided civil war hard to imagine in 20th century Europe. The outbreak of nationalism is followed by the awakening of patriarchal values, as is often the case. Sure there are civil initiatives, organizations and groups in all republics warning of the rapid militarization of society, nationalist mobilization and consequences they might have. Unfortunately, none of these anti-war movements is strong enough to prevent or stop the war. The end result: over 100,000 people killed (and God knows how many missing), 2 million driven from their homes, and Yugoslavia disintegrated.

The Croats and Slovenes, always reserved about Yugoslav unity, decide to secede. The latter try to avoid warfare, suggesting a plan for a loosely united country, based on the Swiss model of independent yet confederated cantons. The proposal is however turned down by other parties wanting full autonomy. Slovenia is the first Yugoslav republic to hold multi-party elections in the spring of 1990, which comes as no surprise. It is the most western-oriented, prosperous and ethnically homogeneous. Tensions are growing. The future of the country is at stake. We are cool…or just pretending. I’m an 8th grader about to take the grammar school entrance exam in Serbian (easy peasy) and math (ouch). My parents are panic-stricken and worried about my future. She’ll never make it. She sucks. Yeah, I know. But I’m cool (for real, not pretending). I rarely study.

Croatia is next to request more autonomy. First armed incidents begin, with open hostilities escalating in the majority-Serb populated areas in March/April 1991. Practice questions and tests, exam registration information, FAQs, tips, prep books, workbooks, study guides…not for me though, for my sister. She’s ready (read: if she’s ready, I’m ready too). I walk into the big room full of students and teachers, cool as ice. A kick-ass cheater, Tito’s school. Slovenia declares independence on June 25, 1991. Belgrade sends the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) to take control of its borders with Italy and Austria. Fighting breaks out on June 27, which will last 10 days. A total of 47 JNA soldiers are killed, aged between 18 and 22 from all the ethnic groups of Yugoslavia. The whole nation is shocked. I pass the exam with honors by applying the infamous partner (sister)-cheating method, that is copying down the answers sissy wrote on a ruler, and disposing of the evidence without getting caught. I’m shocked. I knew I’d pass but never thought my test scores would show such brilliant performance. I’m 14 and happy. I’ve got a crush on an out-of-towner. In September, the Republic of Macedonia gains its independence from Yugoslavia. My freshman year in high school may officially begin.

As violence erupts in Slovenia and Croatia, predominately Muslim Bosnia and Herzegovina (43% of the population) is ominously quiet until the fall of ‘91, when President Izetbegović starts to pursue independence. Bosnian Serbs (31%) oppose, creating their own ‘state’ and enjoying military support of Serbian President Milošević and JNA. The stage for a bloody secession is set. On the first school day, I sit down at a random empty desk in the third row by the window, where I remain till the end of high school. By the time I become a senior, it’ll be full of scribbles, hard to decipher by anyone but me.

The methods used by Croatian President Tuđman are extreme, invoking the spirit of the fascist and ultra-nationalist past. Its more than half-million Serb residents see the writing on the wall and begin to rise up, declaring independence from Croatia. JNA, now dominated by Serbs, sweeps in to put down the Croat rebellion and keep the nation together. The standoff lasts from 1991 to 1995, throughout my high school, and is full of scribbles, hard to decipher by anyone to date, let alone me. The now well-equipped Croatian army retakes the Serb-occupied areas in two offensives, retaliating for earlier ethnic cleansing by doing pretty much the same: torturing and murdering people, and destroying their homes. Scenes of warplanes opening fire on refugees. An eye for an eye. Most of remaining 300,000 Croatian Serbs, many of whom have been killed, are forced into Serbia. Up to now, few have returned. Croatia immediately establishes the borders that exist today.

In spring 1992, the Serb take control of a strip of Muslim-majority towns, also invading numerous mixed-ethnicity towns and villages, executing, and arresting thousands of Bosniaks and Croats (17% of the population), many of whom are taken to concentration or rape camps, while the remaining ones are forced to leave their homes. Bosnia, with its gruesome attacks and unthinkable atrocities, is torn apart, along with many families forced to choose sides. Absurd time. I now live in the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, created from the two remaining federal republics of Yugoslavia after its breakup in ‘92. Cut-off phone lines between post-Yugoslav republics become an everyday reality. The best is yet to come. In the beginning, Bosniaks and Croats fight together against Serbs but, once tensions increase, the former allies engage in open conflict. There’s the so-called Croat–Bosniak war, or ‘war within a war,’ part of the larger Bosnian war, lasting from Oct 1992 to Feb 1994. Bellum omnium contra omnes (the war of all against all). Violent time.

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My generation is coming of age, watching the war live in neighboring Croatia and Bosnia, with its unspeakable cruelties, monstrosities, sieges, shelling, mass murders, mass rapes, mass graves, attacks and counter-attacks, led by regular and paramilitary armies, with thousands of soldiers and civilians killed, displaced and disappeared on all three sides. The world loathes it, the world is disgusted, the world is watching in discomfort, the world condemns it. The world is sending over ‘the Smurfs’ (UN Protection Force). They have the best seats in the theater, sitting in the first row. They are watching. The world pays no mind.

We’re boisterous, feisty and tough, my friends and I, or just play tough. We don’t suck up to upperclassmen. We’re no underdogs. We’re the intolerant and contemptuous ones. There are no cuties to crush on either so we might as well hate their guts. Eventually, we decide to pursue a middle way. We’re sort of on speaking terms, but I can’t say we’re friends either. Befriending refugees with a suitcase full of memories. We hate rules and being told what to do. We hate things that are compulsory. We defy authority. The principal’s a jerk. Teachers too (with a couple of exceptions). Many look down on us, so how can we look up to them?! We are smartasses with superior intellect, perception and wit, beating them so easily that it hurts.

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No one gets suspended or expelled. It’s not that kind of school. There’s nothing much they can do, which annoys the hell out of them. We’re unbearable. When a teacher starts asking too many questions, we sneak off for a quick grope in one of the empty classrooms on the 3rd floor. Experimental time sharing. The remains of soldiers are shipped like parcels back home on a daily basis. When we’re bored or restless, we play hooky. We hate kissasses. Currying favor with teachers is a big no-no, inconsistency, reluctance and fear being punished in not so subtle ways. Truancy is always intentional, though unjustified, and unauthorized. So, we show up every now and then, which in our world means attending school but not going to class that often. Skipping. Yes, we stay away from school without explanation (or with a lousy one), we are absent without permission, we shirk work, and evade duty. I study only the things I’m interested it, in which case I’m enthusiastic, pro-active, resourceful, detailed, alert, studious, meticulous and nerdy. I dodge the stuff I find utterly unappealing and pointless for that matter, in which case I’m idle, lazy, sluggish, passive and neglectful. I’m pretty good at it. Packed orphanages and shabby refugee centers wherever you turn. I don’t move in a girl pack only nor do I need at least two besties with me at all times when entering the school, going to the bathroom, or walking to class. We attend funerals, walk behind coffins and listen to funeral speeches, saying a last goodbye to those killed in war, ‘too young to reason and too grown up to dream.’ I shave my head, and have different-colored socks on, along with my grandpa’s funky ties which I love cutting off. I wear a Sex Pistols sweatshirt/T-shirt, cuffed pants or worn out jeans with frayed edges and big holes at the knee and black boots that I never ever take off.

Ethnic hatred grows as various incidents fuel the powerful propaganda machines on all three sides. We’re told who to love, and who to hate. We live in a black and white world in which we’re the good guys fighting the bad ones, that is evil incarnate. Our religion is better than theirs. ‘Our flag is the embodiment of history,’ and OUR leaders the epitome of courage, determination, commitment, principle and vigor. By contrast, THEY are the personification of omnimalevolence: their politicians, their soldiers, their citizens, their males and females, their children, their dogs. Confusing time. 18-year-olds are drafted into the army in the middle of the night and transported to war zones like cattle in trucks to fight for ‘our cause.’ On our way to school and back, my girlfriends and I touch each other’s breasts and send them kisses, waving hello and goodbye, and we can’t help but wonder if that’s the first and last time we’ve seen them. Mixed feelings of desire, lust, sadness, rage, fear and impotence.

 

We’ll call it a day now, alright? In a few moments, I will awaken you. This time much quicker than the last one….more relaxed. I’ll count from 1 to 5. At the count of 5, you will open your eyes. You’re relaxed…1, 2…You’ll feel wonderfully refreshed when you wake up…3, 4…so relaxed, so calm…whole day…5.

How are you feeling?

Like shit.