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.
EXTRACTS FROM THE DIARIES DURING THE WARS ON THE BALKANS:
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.
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,
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
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
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
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.
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,
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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