Sunday, October 10, 2010

Riot Police-the approach to trg salvija

I'm sitting in my friends apartment in belgrade. I went to Belgrade for the weekend with hopes of going to Pride. We weighed our options ahead of time: how safe did we think it would be, how to go, with whom. We looked at maps, had an emergency phone number, thought about our different options. We read every article on the internet about what people thought was going to happen, how many police would be standing there on gaurd, and even skimmed why it was canceled the year before and about the violence that erupted in 2001. I felt prepared exactly in the one feels when they have read the best guide books, done their homework, but has never really experienced what they've invested so much time thinking and reading about. In short, I was niave.

I decided ahead of time I should go to the parade with another american, then at least we had the same ideas of what was safe or not safe, we could communicate clearly and I suppose worst comes to worse call the embassy? Im not sure what the logic was, but I wasn't comfortable asking any of my aquintances in belgrade to take me along, it seemed like a lot of responsibility.

I meet my friend katie, a fulbright ETA living in Belgrade, around 10 am at her apartment-- about 15 minutes outside the center of town. We think about making coffee, decide we don't have time, nervously put on our coats and pass words of reassurance between each other. I tuck my colorful scarf into my long black wool coat becoming self-conscious of anything that might mark me as someone participating in the parade. We grab the typical pastry from the bakery and walk to the tram stop. Theres a tram that should go directly to trg slavija, one of the three points in the city you could enter the parade grounds (proteced by walls of riot police who were stationed in concentric circles, making the parade a bullseye in some way, but providing several blocks of breathing room, streets waiting empty for broken bricks, tear gas, and a few molatav cocktails). There were only three entry points in an attempt to disprese the protestors who would gather at these entery points where everyone entering the parade grounds would get their bags checked.

Because the parade is so controversial, the streets around the parade route were closed off completely thus creating three "approach" points . We got on a tram that should have taken us straight there. The streets were quiet and no one was on the tram. When we expected it go to go straight it started to turn the corning, heading away from the parade. Apparently the cops had blocked the street and were diverting trams and traffic. Hoping off the tram we were still hopeful, maybe they always divert trams for big events. But as we approached trg slavija you could feel the tension growing in the air, everyones were darting around, exmining carefully the people around them, it was like everyone was on edge. Every person I looked at I exmined their clothing, the way the walk, the tone of their voice... this details played into so illogical equation of how i myelf should be acting with in close proximnety of them. Should I even speak english?
Just as we calcucated that it would be safer on the other side of the street, the side populated with people wearing tighter jeans, smoking cigerettes nervously, walking with banners, the side we guessed was our side we saw the wall, an entire literal wall of riot police-i suddenly felt like i had entered an awful late 80s video game where the men were encased in plastic and thus transforming their shillotus into some kind of army of macho masculine ken dolls. Thick helmets with plastic visors, night sticks swaying, eyes pacing back and forth, the police really insitgated fear in me rather than a sense of safety.

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