Winter is Coming, Wars are Getting Colder

/ by Vladimir Arsenić

The 90s are back. And those are not the merry years of post-Cold War world progress, the Democratic Party rule in the US under Clinton and the blooming of EU, the fast development of the former eastern countries such as Poland, Czech Republic or Slovenia, but rather the gloomy era of the Balkans, in the region of former Yugoslavia, when nationalism was the usual discourse, and more often than not the guns were doing the talking. One may argue that I am exaggerating, that the situation is not that bleak, and I would gladly admit that I am wrong. Except I am not. Some might be even more cautious, because I will talk more about a representation, a world of words and pictures, than about the factual world. But there are parallels, and they are scary.

Just recently, Vladimir Arsenijević, one of the most prominent authors of Post-Yugoslav literature, published the second part of his tetralogy, Cloaka Maxima, entitled You and I, Angela. The novel depicts life in Belgrade in the early 90s, or to be quite precise, the story lasts from the beginning of 1992, till the beginning of June in the same year. And, as I read it, I had the funny feeling in my stomach, but couldn't understand why. Suddenly it all became too clear, it all came back to me, my life at the beginning of the decade that I should have claimed for myself, the links were to striking, and the similarities too obvious. At present, there are no guns around Sarajevo, and there is no war in Croatia, but the public discourse, the things that are said in the media all over the region sound the same as they were in those times.

Let me just ponder a bit on the case of the documentary in three parts on the Ustaša's crimes during the Second World War that was shown at Serbian national television in primetime just a few Saturdays ago. It is not the film itself that is problematic, although there are at least a few issues in it, one of the principal being the notion that Serbs should worry more about their own backyard, which is neither bright nor clean, than about the neighboring ones, but the idea that this kind of movie, in a very tight current political situation, in which every spark can and eventually will start another fire in the Balkans, should receive widespread attention is, let me put it bluntly, very problematic. Not only that Serbs are eternal victims, which is repeating of the mantra of the 90s, but the film is edited in such a way that we can hear a couple of Croatian historians refuting the idea of the Ustaša's war crimes altogether. So the idea that the average viewer of primetime television in Serbia gets from the movie is that most Croats think that the Ustaša were in a way good guys, which is simply a lie. Ordinary people in Croatia, as in Serbia, as in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and all over the world, are somehow more concerned with everyday problems than with historical truths. But if you serve them a sophisticatedly-edited lie that will make them worry about the Other and the Different who may be endangering them, then you will reap just what you sow. Another bloody war.

Another example, I have just visited Sisak, a provincial town in Croatia, and a beautiful one, that lies on three rivers: Kupa, Odra and Sava. In front of the general hospital, in the town which is like any other industrial town in the region of former Yugoslavia, apart from Slovenia, meaning on the verge of existence, there are protestors who are protesting against the right to an abortion. In the EU, at the beginning of 21st century, you have protestors against the decision that every woman could and should make about her own body. It is unbelievable, but there they are, not only in Sisak, but in every other Croatian city, there they stand, waving their signs. They are young and jobless and their only trouble is woman’s womb. You don't say!

There is a pattern here, and the one that should make us think and worry. The rise of nationalism and conservativism usually coincide with the economic crisis, but that is the lesson from history that we all know. The other question is why it is again served on a hot plate to the people in the region? Why is anybody playing with the lighter next to the barrel of explosives? According to one of the theories, which indeed sounds like a conspiracy, but it is as plausible as any other, one cannot feed the watchdogs with well-cooked food. They need to eat raw meat. They need to be all the time on alert and ready to obey orders and to kill. In that sense, the people of the region, which was always kind of a bordering fortress to the East and South, are again turned into guards, soldiers who are going to be pushed into battle against the next wave of migrants, both refugees and economic. The people in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia are going to be pawns in the future clash of civilizations. If not that, then they are going to start killing themselves. Sounds crazy? Well, it does, but take a look around you, take a good one, and check out what our politicians are doing. They are acting like pimps, selling us short, and making us forget what our real problems are: people are starving, people are dying because of expensive healthcare, people are undereducated and they are slowly turning into zombies under the bad influence of the media, and lack of cultural content. The state in which the healthcare, the education and culture are under-budgeted is not a happy one. However, it is ready for war. Let’s not forget that the winter is coming.

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Vladimir Arsenić

graduated in comparative literature from the Tel Aviv University (master degree). He is a regular critic of the internet portal e-novine.com and booksa.hr. He published texts for the Think Tank, Beton, Quorum, pescanik.net, proletter.org. He was a mentor on the project Criticize this! with Srdjan Srdić, he teaches creative writing in Hila workshop. He is a regular contributor to literary festival Cum grano salis in Tuzla, BiH. His texts are translated into albanian and slovenian. He translates from English and Hebrew. With friends, he edits a literary magazine Ulaznica that is published in Zrenjanin. He supports Tottenham Hotspur FC. 


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