Friday, October 15, 2010

Belgrade Part Two

(see below for the first half of this post)
My confidence in our safety, or knowledge of the situation, seemed faulty all of sudden and all I needed at that point was a bit of questioning to really send me home in the other direction. Less than a block from the entrance to the parade ground I run into my former professor from the region...

eh cao... i say tentatively, are you going in?

She is standing their calmly inhaling from her cigarette away on her cigarette with her partner, were discussing. She responds. This is a woman who has all the recommended skills, she is fluent in the language, knows the city well, and served in an army for that matter, and she wasn't sure?

Do you know anyone inside?
I'm not sure, i guess not really.
Do you know the area?
Yeah, pretty well.
Do you have a plan?
I think so?
Are you going in, Emily?
Yeaaahh, I respond, drawing out my answer slowly, revealing my own self doubt and still contemplating the brief interrogation.

Well, ide, you should go then.
Mozes, cujemo se..
Be careful, emily.

(As heard those words I instantly wished I was a child again, when people said "don't do that" or "you might get in trouble!" and the thrill that followed doing something seemingly dangerous right then I wanted someone to hold my hand, or at least to allow me to pretend I could shed responsibility. Play innocent again. Play dumb, walk in chin up brave and maybe stupid.)

We walk a few steps forward as the realization set in that it wasn't the best idea to be standing there between the riot police and the rioters speaking English. We stopped before going much further, our shared hesitation obvious. All of sudden something, I'm still not suite sure what, happens. Simultaneously there is a man in street holding up the Serbian flag shouting something and at the same time the first wall of plastic police men start walking in our direction shouting: Izvolite! Izvolite! ... which was only an introduction for a monologue of more complicated Serbian I didn't quite understand. I felt my checks suck in a bit and something drop in my stomach. I didn't quite understand, I was standing there dumbfounded stretching my ears as if i could only make them wider id gain some clarity of why everyone was yelling and why this plastic soldiers were walking briskly in our direction, we turned and started walking away. The few familiar faces who I knew were heading in turned around also and calmly headed around the corner. Katie and I looked at each other, we shouldn't be here. We walked home, thought about catching a tram but decided it felt good to feel the ground around our feet, and even better to know if for some reason we had to run away we could. The idea of being confined in a tram car seemed unbearable at the moment.

The streets seemed empty but as we walked further and further from the center we saw a few old people out with young children. The cafes seemed rather empty, but it was a sunday. We went to katies apartment and I knew I wouldnt be heading back to the center any time soon, the place where I had been staying all weekend was in the midst of the center and I wasnt about to head there alone. We stayed inside, watching the news, following twitter, relying heavily on google on translator, watching the same scenes of hooligans breaking class and charging the police over and over again on the tv. I ended up staying at katies, falling asleep on her couch at 11 after ordering pizza in. I was there, but I wasnt, i was only a mile or two away, but outside our windows everything qas quite, although the streets smelled of sulfur, a smell we relied was lingering over the whole city, remnants of the tear gas used by the police. I feel asleep exhausted and I hadnt even done anythign and I didnt even understand the news reports. I had felt trapped and tired of the immobility of a city full of mysterious violence and hate, even if it was passing.

In some ways I regret not going to the parade, inside the parade was much safer, although in the end everyone was escorted from the end party in armoured police vehicles. But the violence was at the borders, before you reached the no mans land in between. While I almost regret not going I know it was the smarter to decision to go home, to watch from a far, and in many ways I imagine this experience of hole-ing up, of feeling like it wasnt safe to go home (my temporary home at least), is more in line with what the vast majoirty of Serbians experienced. I suppose I was still there, trying to understand were it all came from, the motivation, the political climate, the western idea of progress, the serbian idea of Serbia. Its a complicated puzzle and I know I am missing most of the pieces.

>its almost a week later that I am writing this, and now the things that linger in my mind was my own desire to be in belgrade for the parade, to witness the event, to support the people I knew going, did it come from a place of support? Or some strange curiosity to experience something radical, extreme, intense? Was it a kind of war tourism or colonialist American tendencies pushing me to go, to as Americans say: watch the shit hit the fan? Id like to think my motivation came from feeling somehow connected to this community, to really truly believing that everyone has the right to express their identity as they experience it as long, and this is key, as long as it is not creating barriers to how others experience their own identities, or create a culture of violence. This, i do believe, was my main motivation, but i think it is important to stay critical, to remember that at the end of the day I am still an outsider here without the ability to know, to know in that deep, in your bones kind of way, of what it means to live here and have those struggles with identity, with freedom of self, to feel always trapped in some way. For me, these personal questions are indispensable in doing researching, it acknowleding how our personal experience is influencing our work, because it is inescapable and impossible to tease out the self from any undertaking we are invested in.

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