Jukka Male


Balkan Tragedy

Own projects

The introduction to the exhibition as it was written by me at Tom Blau Gallery in London 2000:

We live at a time when most of the people of Europe have no first-hand experience of war. When the Balkans exploded into violence we were confronted with war as something new. Organised hostility is difficult to comprehend. While the events associated with wars are complex in respect to their background they are simple in terms of their violence. In a state of war, society fights against the morals it has itself produced. We should, then, be able to oppose war and simultaneously accept its aggressive nature. The seeds of war are hidden in peace. We are taught that the presence of armies is quite natural. Every state seeks to maintain its military power. It is the state’s way of making itself heard on the international stage. While ideologies are spiritual by nature, setbacks turn them into corpses.

As the millennium was drawing to a close the European idyll was shattered when the federal state of Yugoslavia erupted into violence. The structure of the Iron Curtain had not been fully understood. The former “partisan state” had been divided into spheres of interest which initially aimed to increase their power vis-à-vis the central government. Negotiations between them were unsuccessful and a group of states, all declaring independence in a manner of their own, began to define their mutual relations by means of force. Slovenia succeeded in detaching itself from Yugoslavia with relative ease. The dispute between Croatia and Serbia degenerated into a fully blown war over rights to areas which had been settled by both ethnic groups. In Bosnia-Herzegovina a similar division was taking place involving Muslims, Croatians and Serbs. In Kosovo, the Albanian and Serbian population had nothing more in common than a shared geographical location. Politically the situation erupted into a theatre of war the last act of which, for the time being at least, was a bombing campaign by an American controlled Nato against the mother state, Yugoslavia, the purpose of which was to put to an end the violence that had been going on for too long.

The Balkan tragedy of the final decade could have been avoided. The decisions were made by people. Bad political judgements were made both in the Balkans and in places with influence in the region. The wall between what happened and what did not is thin. One tragedy followed another and snowballed as if no intervention were possible. Ethnic differences gained importance initially as a means to gain or maintain power, but subsequently their significance changed in such a way as to define the entire picture of the conflict.

Many see the problems of a shattered Yugoslavia as local issues. The Balkans are a reflection of their past. They have brought upon themselves the myth according to which every second generation must have its war. The violence seems distant until it is close at hand as it did in Sarajevo as long as the war was raging in Croatia. Later the war came to Sarajevo too, as it did to so many of the regions in the collapsing federal state.

Many years of war have brought unspeakable misery to the Balkans: a quarter of a million dead, a countless number of wounded, industry and infrastructure destroyed and a population driven into exile. Impoverished economies and the unbridled corruption which govern them build visions of the future that are just as bleak as those economies which define them.

No nation is a singularity even if, by way of generalisation, it achieves a certain reputation. Every nation encompasses a whole spectrum of values. But wars affect international relations nevertheless. Over the past ten years, the Serbs have gained the same kind of reputation for aggression as did the Germans during the second World War. A stigma which will only slowly fade.

A society wounded by war does not easily rid itself of the blemish of war. I have examined all sides involved in the conflicts in the area previously known as Yugoslavia from the Croatia of 1992 until the Kosovo and Serbia of the present day. My subjects have been those injured both during the period of war and the time that followed.

My view is simple. I have depicted the seriously wounded on all sides of the conflict, one of the inevitable results of war in which everyone is a loser; in these wars Serbs, Croatians, Bosnian Muslims and Kosova Albanians alike. The purpose of these pictures is to break through the thin shell which the words hide. Rather than seeking reasons I am trying to reveal the consequences of war. My pictures only give a slight indication of the horror story behind the politics of violence in the Balkans, the sum total of which is impossible to define. While attempts are made to translate the destruction wreaked on society into the language of economics, the suffering of the individual cannot be measured. These wounds were inflicted deliberately. They did not come about by accident but were premeditated.

We have become accustomed to commemorating history and its gravestones, at the same time forgetting the silent moments surrounding the stones. History has traditionally been the story of social revolution and violence. War and peace, each giving birth to the other, each following the other, each in turn making room for change, a change which could lead in either direction.

The end of the millennium does not mean the inevitable end of anything. Peace is not a permanent state even though it is championed as an aim when people speak. Only that history that has already been made is unchangeable. If good is passive and powerless, evil is the victor.

Perpetuity exists now. It is the only moment we can affect.

Jukka Male in London, 1st of April 2000.

I had an article in the Upnorth magazine with these pictures in the year 2015. I wrote about the violence which had started its war signs in Ukraine as well:

Europe has changed and that change has confused us. Life was supposed to be a sweet dream, but that dream is turning into a nightmare. As with all dreams, we don’t know how this one will end before we wake up; if we can know it even then.

“Francis Fukuyama predicted already in 1994 that the only serious threat to the security of Europe could emerge in the relationship between Russia and Ukraine” writes Jermu Laine in the Finnish ‘Tieteessä tapahtuu’-magazine (5/2014).

After World War II, Europe lived through an exceptionally long period of peace. That kind of good luck blinded the eyes of many. And by the end of the millennium, Yugoslavia broke down into several wars.

The photos in this collection portray one of the many results of those conflicts: the wounded.

I photographed all of the ethnic groups that had fought against each other as separate groups. Each one of them, including the Serbs, experienced victimhood, and fear of the others. That was what they said, and that is what people always say. Today, it’s being said in Europe again.

History hides in itself the possibility of what never happened, meaning whatever could have happened alternatively, but never did happen anyway.

Slobodan Milosević could be a celebrated leader, dead or alive, if he had succeeded to stop the disintegration of Yugoslavia. That is, if the victims of the violence then, would have been limited to tens or hundreds, if not thousands. We can see it in Eastern Ukraine now: no leader, nor leadership style has been seriously questioned. If the war ended now, the leaders could still go on as leaders on both sides of the borders. Meaning there is a licence to kill.

Nationalism is a sense of superiority. Believe it: perhaps you don’t notice it, but with nationalism, the status of some people is quietly elevated, compared to some other people, and placed above others. In some cases, perhaps only above some certain characteristics of someone. Or just one’s potential “betterness” is emphasized. We will change one day. And then we’ll change the others. Or at least we’ll conquer them.

We do not know how the conflict between Ukraine and Russia will turn out. Even Russia does not know, despite the fact that Russia is known to be most obviously in charge of the violence on the frontlines, even if it won’t admit it. The black swan flies invisible in the dark. The logic, or the senselessness, of the events will only be revealed afterwards. We can get surprised by the speed of those processes, unless we get bored by their slowness. But that, too, will only be revealed later. If things go really bad, the conflict may turn out bigger than the Yugoslav wars ever were.

No war ends when the actual battles end. Individual victims are hidden in societies recovering from war. Many will live with painful reminders of war each and every day of their lives. The economies of the destroyed countries might recover sooner but not for everybody.

The speed of information transmission over the internet is unprecedented. But not everything gets faster in the digital age: we have seen this in the slower-than-before return of the investments after the economic depression. The internet is effective in transferring fear, and even more effective in preserving fear. It can bring you to a standstill.

While Russia has been labeled a mausoleum of old-fashioned thought, it has progressed much further than the West in the world of communications. It has been easy to disturb publicity and offer many false focuses to understanding. Russia uses distorted methods, and its audacity pays off.

You grow familiar with whatever you are accustomed to. Crimea is already age-old Russia. It was returned to Mother Russia already age-old months ago. In our fast information space the short term quickly becomes longer than the time between now and the last World War.

And also, if we fear that Russia will grab half of Europe, that reduces the significance of the annexation of Crimea, and of course of Eastern Ukraine. History’s course, and the sense of time that follows from it, and the scale, is changed by invoking fear.

Give a little, and you’ll get a lot. The Crimean peninsula has already turned into a little part of a horror scenario. It has been minimized into a necessary and nearly inevitable loss. And as a loss, it already represents, for many, the desired end result of the entire conflict. This is what Russia has pursued the whole time. Russian military exercises, the deployment of troops near Europe’s strategically sensitive spots, as well as the intensive aircraft activity, sometimes far away from its own borders, have all added to the pressure.

At the moment, I am in Katowice, Poland. The nuclear warheads are also directed at Poland. Theoretically Katowice is out of the reach of the Iskanders (short range missles) anyway. I’d hear their blows from the TV, or Twitter, or Facebook. To begin with, I can’t know the end result. War always evolves.

No one knows when “your war” will break out. It may happen tomorrow, or never. You just don’t know. Every conflict that becomes a war could have been avoided. How? This cannot be told in a single story. Wars give birth to thousands of stories, only some of which are really true.

I am returning to this project with the goal of studying the long term effects of war. The final material will be published as a book if not as a film as well. At the moment I am looking for some help to finance the project. All good advice is welcome.

Look at the pictures of the wars of Yugoslavia breaking apart, they happened fifteen and twenty years ago. They could soon be pictures of our New Europe.

Besides to the victims I made some pictures from the war zones. Here you see some of them perharps not in the best chronological order.


“In every war there is the first victim to die

and at its end also the last one to be killed.
No one knows if it was better to be killed

as the first or the last one.

To die means an end to an individual’s world

but there is life during the war as well.”

Zagreb, Croatia. July 1992

Lili Marlene is playing on the café terrace. First in

German, then in Croatian. Then a dull hit, ‘Peace,

Yugoslavia, peace’. It must be an old piece. Sulc

wants some other music and at the same time asks

for the volume to be turned up. He is a discontented

mercenary. ‘How can you get a woman on a hundred

marks a month? Nohow!’

The Killer points at a pigeon. ‘Bang!’ His arms leave

stripes in the air and the pigeon would be history if

Sulc had a gun. He says he is buying a new pistol,

and then that he killed children in Vukovar. ‘Look at

that! Sex bomb! Oooh, fucky!’ Sulc gestures at a

woman. Another woman goes by and gets a thumbsdown.

‘No good!’

Sulc has a woman in Sisak. I wonder what she’s

like. Who could love a troll? He has an animal’s

reflexes. Whenever something rustles, Sulc starts

and is ready for battle. No sleep for the past four

days. ‘Doesn’t matter! Oh… look, that’s a Chechnik,

they’ve got beards!’ Sulc is from Kosovo, and bitter

toward the Serbs. More than for the Croats, he’s

fighting against the Serbs. He won’t tell me his real


It’s eight in the morning. I go back to the hotel. The

city fills up with people going to work. I wonder

how the children felt in the hands of the Killer. Or in

the hands of the Killers. The circular letter of

murder has crossed borders and demands a terrible

revenge which is difficult for us to grasp, but more

human than we want to understand. Deep into war,

everything happens. Can the causes of war be

erased just by killing everyone.

I lie down in my hotel room covered only by a sheet.

I imagine I am a corpse. Hatred. War. Rage.

Revenge. Compensation. The three coffees I have

been bought burn my stomach. The air-conditioning

hums more evenly now, and doesn’t sound like

bombing any more. A morgue must be kept cool. Do

not disturb. Do not change the bedclothes until

tomorrow, room 221.

Zagreb, Croatia. July 1992

Saturday night, and I am walking in the centre of

town, amazed at what I see. Is this country at war?

It doesn’t look like it. It is like falling out of the

black-and-white film of one’s prejudices into a

colour film. Murderous battles on the front nearby

and the passionate night-life of the city do not fit

with my preformed image of war.

The terrace cafés are full; happy people wander the

streets. The pavements are opera, dance, ballet and

story-telling. The front is far away from here. The

celebrations are a war against war. What seems

contraversial to the visitor is perhaps a

compensation for anxiety. But isn’t this going too

far? No. This city life, which seems extremely

paradoxical to the outside, must be accepted and

defended. Yes, exactly: defended. Because this is

what they want.

Sisak, Croatia. July 1992

There is shooting from Petrinja every day. You can’t

feel fear for someone else. The fear is always your

own. Incomprehensibility doesn’t make death nonexistent.

Death manifests itself as absurd, strange,

something that happens to other people. The details

of torture do not open up to us. Whether a million

Yugoslavs, Serbs, Croats, Bosnians or Albanians die

is a matter of indifference to us. Death, too, must

be our own. You can’t die for someone else. For

those who are leaving, it is routine.

Zagreb, Croatia. July 1992

How can war have rules? How can people feel

insulted because war does not follow its rules. How

can it be allowed rules. Is it possible for the rules

of war to contain something which is right? Why

does no one feel insulted because it is possible for

war to be intellectually organised activity, because

it is in practice accepted, although in theory it is not


On the other hand, there is a desire to escape even

the weak rules of war. If it is possible to call war

anti-terrorist activity, then let’s do so. Then there

are no rules to govern cruelty that is committed in

the name of societal self-defence. How many

victims are needed before it can be called a war.

The yardstick of understanding turns grey; hatred

turns into a way of seeing another person.

In wars, someone is always the last to die. Could

not even one be spared? Where is the line between

self and other. Is a nation a measure for sharing

responsibility. To what extent is humanity solidarity.

Community spirit is not a shared spirit, but

everyone’s spirit separately. All rules hold in war

and love. You hate and I love. War legitimates

crimes against the person. People who would not

otherwise commit suicide have themselves killed. A

military uniform has a civilian body.

Novska, Croatia. July 1992

As well as lives, war destroys objects. Buildings,

roads, bridges, towns and villages. War makes the

beautiful and the ugly the same. A thousand raped

women are the same as one. These borders

begotten by war function as they survive like time

bombs. Kosovo and Macedonia wait their turn. The

long systematic superpower policy of a nation has

come to the end of its road. The nation chooses its

leaders; the leaders choose the enemy.

Hellas-Express, 20 may 1998,

between Budapest and Belgrade

The train is short and empty for an international

express, a vehicle between two capitals. Warfare

leaves its mark on relations between countries. I

think about the influence of cultures on the

cultivation of hatred on the part of different nations

and the justification of cultures which in one way or

another raise themselves above the rest. Are there

any cultures in existence which mean well to


… in the same train near Subotica,

on the Yugoslavian border

A middle-aged woman rushes out of the forest

toward the train, gesturing with her hands as if she

were waving at the passengers. At the same time

three man-sized plastic bags fly out of the last

carriage. Now I understand the sounds of

sellotaping I heard earlier. Smugglers. They were

wrapping sacks together. Two of the sacks burst as

they hit the ground at high speed. They hurl their

contents like slowly exploding stars. Small objects

fly, each its own celestial body, along the railway

embankment. Strange that the border officials do

not intervene. Perhaps they take their cut. Taxed by

economic sanctions, Yugoslavia accepts everything

it can get.

Another frontier, the Skopje-Pristina

road, August 1998

The clock on the bus has stopped. The conductor

moves its hands to the right time every twenty

minutes. More luggage is lifted into the coach

before the border. A child’s plastic tricycle in the

corridor, and taped-up packages between the seats.

There are already bulky packages on the seats;

visible through the plastic are shoes and clothes

and other easily saleable things: household tools,

fruit baskets and cleaning materials.

Frontiers give a direction to poverty. Poverty runs

upstream. It does not obey the laws of physics. The

Macedonian border police officer, a smiling woman,

calls the frontier the Serbian frontier. Not the

frontier of Kosovo or Yugoslavia. So Kosovo is in


Prishtina, Kosovo. August 1998

You have to choose your side. Every slightly more

serious conversation leads to the question: whose

side are you on? My friend, whose mother is a Serb,

is suspect. It is not enough that she is against

injustice; her mother should become an Albanian.

‘We came here five hundred years before the apes

and another five hundred years before the devil,’

says Veton, a full Albanian. The Serbs are the

Albanians’ devils. Veton talks a lot. Each sentence

seeks some difference between the Albanians and

the Serbs. The occupation must be removed, even if

it takes a thousand years.

Llausha, Kosovo. August 1998

In the ravine is a bus which has burnt to a rusty

skeleton. It was rammed there. From the sturdy

cartridge cases you can see how the tanks have

stopped here to fire for a long time. The militia

gesture to us angrily from the shelter of sandbags

to drive on. We may not stop. The battles continue. I

remember Llausha in May, when the first grenades

exploded there. Then the situation was different. We

avoided the army’s road closures by using the

forest road that descends to the village from

behind. Now Llausha is tightly surrounded, and no

one is allowed in.

Rausic, Kosovo. August 1998

Two fire-engine-red tractors dash out in front of us

from side roads, driven by Serb militiamen. Behind

them, through the woods, we can see a house which

has just been set on fire. On each tractor is a blueuniformed

man, his back to the engine, legs

dangling. The real owners of the vehicles and the

houses are Albanians who have been expelled.

The militiamen are cheerful and carefree. The life’s

work of the people they hate burn in a couple of

hours to hollow cores; courtyards fall silent and

become soundlessly smouldering smoke. Around the

empty villages, loose cattle feed in the maize fields.

It is the only thing which happens here without evil

intentions, with a good conscience.

Junik, Kosovo. August 1998

A horse walks toward me on a deserted village

street. No villagers are visible. Four cows are on

the loose in the nearby byre, and at their feet is a

hen and her chicks. Two militiamen sit on guard in a

café that has been shot to shreds. The militia forces

have just taken Junik after heavy fighting. The

village is important to both sides. To the Albanians,

it is a web-page icon. Behind the bar, beside some

postcards, hangs a 50 billion dinar note from 1993.

Its value lies in its valuelessness. ’Take it as a

souvenir!’ say the militiamen. I do.

Orahovac, Kosovo. August 1998

The style of the guards at the check-point is

aggression. The group displays the fashionconsciousness

of the paramilitary: scarves on

heads or wound round necks, a few earrings and

Rayban glasses. Everyone has an assault rifle in his

hand and on his feet boots fit for kicking. The

armour-covered bodies are strongly built. The men’s

movements are restless and impressive; like copies

of violent American films that have been seen many

times. Around are stolen cars with doors sprayed

with Orthodox symbols and the text: Serbia belongs

to the Serbs. The heat sends the men crazy. Selfesteem

is fragile, and always on the trigger.

Belgrade, Serbia. September 1998

Sasha draws the sign of a cross on a piece of paper

and shows how Serbia is defending Christianity. Then he

draws a half-moon and scribbles on it quickly so

that finally there is a thick cross on top of the halfmoon.

’The Muslims must be destroyed!’ Sasha

says. ‘No one can be neutral!’ he says, meaning me,

so sharply that it sounds like science.

Belgrade-Banja Luka road,

September 1998

The division of Yugoslavia is traumatic in many

ways. We drive along the Sava river on the Serb

Republic side. ’That’s Croatia. So near, and yet so

far,’ says the bus-driver’s assistant, pointing to the

other side of the river. Empty villages as far as the

eye can see as we approach Derventa. Shot-out

houses, uninhabited. Sometimes, evenly, every

building is a ruin, sometimes there is an occasional

undamaged one, as if by accident in the midst of

this otherwise fragmented settlement. Just before

the town there is an apartment block that has

remained a building site, beside it a crane stopped

by the explosion, distorted but still ready to

complete its task.

Banja Luka, the Serb Republic of

Bosnia. September 1998

Savo, who is wounded in his feet, curses the mines.

A bullet makes a soldier inactive for a moment, a

mine for the rest of his life. More than his own

wounds, he is depressed on behalf of his son: as

they exploded, the grenade-detonators he had

found took almost all of the sight of both his eyes.

We set out from the hospital toward the centre of

Banja Luka. The man sitting beside me says he

served in the mines troops throughout the war. He

says he set five thousand mines. It is a lot for one


Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

October 1998

The consequences of war become everyday life. Life

before the war seems unreal and distant. Life now

is a pile of difficulties, poverty and incapacity. Even

the well have their difficulties, but there is no

demand for defective body. The burden is multiplied

since the troubles are almost always both physical

and economic.

Korde’s life was good before the war, but now he

feels as if there was no life before the war. A

grenade fell on Vase Miskina street and killed 17

people. It put Korde into a coma, and of the year

that followed he remembered nothing. A year later,

a grenade that hit the courtyard of his home

knocked him unconscious again. It restored his

memory. When he came to, he realised that this was


Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

October 1998

On Lepir’s hands are two eternally tattooed loves:

the initials of the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, and

the woman of his youth who never became his wife.

Also his relationship with the People’s Army

changed with time. He moved from behind the gun

to in front of the gun.

Sarajevo became a city on which 1,000,000

grenades were fired in three and a half years. As a

target, it was easy. Sarajevo lies at the bottom of a

deep valley. The Serbs surrounded the city with

their artillery and their sharp-shooters, and

transformed it into a hell on earth. The kilometres

which, now I have walked them, have raised a

blister on the sole of my foot, would during the

siege probably have taken my whole foot, if they

had not perhaps killed me.

Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

October 1998

Ajla lives in a short stretch of street in the centre of

town. She points to her window, next to which is an

empty, blown-up apartment. It was hit by a rocket.

Everyone died. The marks left in the streets by the

shells are called roses after the patterns they

make. The senders of those flowers were known,

but anonymous.

Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

October 1998

Bosnia is a weak business that has already gone

bankrupt. Its economy is full of corruption, which is

as invisible as the money that disappears into it.

There is dissatisfaction with the UN. The UN,

however, can be seen, but money can disappear

even into visibility. The resuscitation of the

community is agonisingly slow. It is not yet certain

whether it will succeed. The body has only just been


Vukovar, Croatia. June 1999

Ruined houses in Croatia are divided into six

different classes, according to their condition. Only

houses of the sixth class of destruction are

replaced with completely new ones. Many new

houses are being built in Vukovar. During the period

between August and November 1991, 850,000

rounds of heavy ammunition were fired into

Vukovar, more per hour than wartime Sarajevo. With

that quantity of explosives, the Serbs took control

of the town for seven years. Easternmost Slavonia

and with it Vukovar were ceded back to Croatia by

decision of the UN in 1998.

Between Osijek and Vinkovci,

Croatia. June 1999

Many fields on the old battlefronts have grown wild.

They are unpredictably mined. That is why no one

dares enter them. Liberated from people, plant

species behave like people conquering land: first

come the greediest, then it is the toughest that


Osijek, Croatia. June 1999

‘Of soldiers who served at the front, 268 have

committed suicide this year,’ says Tomislav. ’They

should take better care of people. They take even

less notice of civilian victims.’ The grenade that hit

him had his name written on it. That is what he

says. As if the inevitable must always happen. It is

worth believing, so that life is not unjust.

Tomislav finds it difficult to bear the numbing

Croatian chauvinism of the radio and television. He

knows he is a Croat, and that should be enough.

Extreme nationalist movements are at the height of

their popularity throughout the Balkans. It is

understandable. Each group has deep suffering

fresh in its memory. It seems compulsory to belong

to the natio-nalist parties, otherwise all the

suffering would have been in vain. If the end result

of the war were the same as where it started, the

war would have been in vain.

Prishtina, Kosovo. June 1999

Lulzim has just returned home from the refugee

camp. At home the clock is still on wintertime. His

family is coming after him. They had to leave Kosovo

on the last day of March. They didn’t suffer the

worst. Many people died or were mugged. The war,

as it progresses, is evolutionary: cruel becomes

crueller. Progress is human nature, both as a

psychological property and in technical solutions.

There would be no weapons, either, if they were not

capable of killing.

Ferizaj, Kosovo. town hospital

morgue, June 1999

Serbs or Albanians. The unidentified bodies all look

the same. The speechlessness of the dead conceals

their ethnic origin. Unbreathing, they lie in peace,

side by side. The American soldier said they were

Serbs, but the Albanian doctor claims he does not

know the victims’ identity. Whether or not they are

Albanians, none of them have papers. The doctor is

waiting for relatives to fetch the bodies. I don’t

understand. Who are the relatives, if no one knows

who the bodies are.

Prishtina, Kosovo. June 1999

Despite the presence of Nato, there are weapons

everywhere. Today there was a shooting incident in

the hospital. A Serb man threatened a doctor and

then shot the medications officer. A black American

soldier came toward me, carrying the wounded

prisoner. ‘Stand back!’ he shouted at me, and

disappeared past me through the door.

belgrade, serbia. october 1999

From the street scene, it is impossible to infer the

state of the nation. People are well-dressed,

generally according to the weather and their own

inclinations. The lack of heating in the apartments

does not affect life outdoors. If there is a shortage

of fuel, people walk more. Since they cannot afford

to travel, people spend less time away from the city.

Some people, in difficulties with their livelihood, sell

their possessions in the street. In addition,

countless refugees walk the streets. Distress

enlivens the street scene, deceiving the outsider

into optimism.

Belgrade, Serbia. October 1999

Wars have their internal political objectives. This

country is privatised between the army, the secret

police and the political elite. Built in to Serbia is its

faithful nomenklatura, which repeats its leaders

words with the accuracy of a microphone. But there

are other people in the country. The sustenance of

the internal order of the state is like a stationary

war in which battle-lines are unknown because the

enemies are contained within the community which

is to be protected.

All that is left of the federation are Serbia and

Montenegro. Kosovo is, in practice, lost. What then, is

the position of Vojvodina, which the war has left

almost untouched and which was stripped of its

autonomy at almost the same time as Kosovo. Threat

or victim. To people who live there, the Nato bombings

seemed unjust. Among their own people, there is also

understanding. ’The bridges of Novi Sad were not

toppled into the river by American missiles, but as

early as 1991 by the weight of flowers thrown on to

JNA tanks as they made their way toward Vukovar,’

was the writer Nenad Canak’s comment after the

Americans destroyed the bridges with rockets.

Belgrade, Serbia. October 1999

During the Nato bombings, the German mark was a

strong currency, international products were

available and MacDonald’s was open. The American,

German and French cultural institutes in Kneza

Mihaila suffered almost as sad a fate as the Natobombed

Chinese embassy, although without human

casualties. They still stand empty and dirtied,

waiting for better times, which will come just as

surely as they will be followed by worse ones.

’The time of the bombings was unreal. In the

evenings, there were no street lamps or people in

the streets, apart from dog-walkers. The city was

empty. It was like something out of Bladerunner.

Erase the street lights. Enter. Street lights erased.

– Erase the people. Enter. People erased. All the

trouble considered, it was a learning experience.

There’s no doubt that I see my life more clearly

now. Everything is crystal clear,’ says Milena.

Belgrade, Serbia. October 1999

The waitress suddenly loses her temper. From

behind me comes a bloodcurdling scream, followed

by an angry outpouring of which I understand only

the word ‘Milosevic’. A man replies, and from his

speech I understand the word ‘police’. I also

understand that within the coldness of Belgrade

there broods a volcano which awaits eruption.

People are anxious. It does not help that yesterday

the radiators were tepid. Today they are cold.

Gorazde, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

November 1999

In the courtyards of the blocks are as many piles of

logs as there are flats in the buildings. The vision is

nostalgic, the life it contains arduous. Residents

have to heat their own spaces themselves. The logs

are piled up into stacks of different kinds. Most of

them are covered with sheets of plastic; others are

sheltered by the topmost logs. The situation is the

same on the other side of the border, in the Serb

Republic. I remember its capital Banja Luka

preparing itself for the coming winter, the sound of

logs being chopped everywhere and the horsedrawn

diesel saw that tours the city.

Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

December 1999

History does not repeat itself. History is repeated

by the present. Why do wars break out, if no one

wants them. Are war and peace the same

measurable time? Do wars end when they end, or is

peace a lobby for war, an antechamber of conflict.

The children of war will always find a wet-nurse in


The people of the same town shoot one another

here, too. There are many estimations of the

reasons for the Balkan conflicts. Much has been

said about ethnic difference and the poor tolerance

of religions for other religions, or that it was only in

the Balkans that the Second World War was finally

fought to the end. Perhaps none of these alone, but

all of them together. Here, the east and west of

Europe cast a joint shadow. The sky mixes the land.

There are many gods; the devils are the people


Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

December 1999

Branislava has travelled from Belgrade to Sarajevo

for a conference of cultural people. It would not be

extraordinary, except that this is her first time since

the war. She stammers her astonishment again and

again. The city is not, in her opinion, as it was; in

the streets one continually sees only scarf-headed

girls, in other words Muslims. The moment is,

however, exaggerated. A religious occasion has just

finished nearby, and people returning from it fill the


Former Foca, present-day Srbinja,

the Serb Republic of Bosnia.

December 1999

Human beings are the only animals who make

written agreements. The power of signatures is

enormous, until they are overturned by someone

with greater power. In war, the property to be

divided is places with all their property. Rights are

sought with wrongs. Missiles are used instead of

money. The object of trade is easier to capture when

the seller is absent. Borders between states show

where the conflict last ended.

Translated by Hildi Hawkins