Category Archives: Freedom

Democratic Serbia defeated once again: Belgrade Pride cancelled.

The decision to call off the Belgrade Pride Parade represents a serious set-back for the liberal sector in Serbia and a significant victory for the darkest nationalist forces.

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Only once has a LGTB Pride Parade been organized in Serbia, in 2001. The Milosevic regime had been overthrown some months earlier, in October 2000, and, led by Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, Serbia seemed to be experiencing, for the first time, an environment allowing the full expression of the liberal ambitions of one part of its society. The Parade was violently disrupted by extreme right youth groups, led by the clero-fascist organization Obraz. The violent attack and the failure of the state to garantee the security of the event, held only two days after Milosevic’s deportation to the Hague, revealed the height of the challenges that those committed into building a civic society in Serbia would have to face. It didn’t take long until hope in positive change started to be replaced by increasing scepticism.

For the LGTB community, the event highlighted the need to return to the semi-clandesitne status in which it had previously been living. To say semi-clandestine statues when refering to Serbia’s gays and lesbians is to mention only the small minority of gays and lesbians organized in NGO’s or informal associations. For most, being homosexual means to live in total clandestinity, hiding and denying one’s identity even from the closest friends, not to mention the family, and in the case of many men, to make a serious effort to look as macho as possible. Homophobia in Serbia is so widespread and homophobes feel so free to express their contempt towards those who don’t share their brutish way of being men that it is very frequent for heterossexual young men to be harrassed for not looking macho enough (this is not to say that all homophobes are men, but usually physical assaults are perpretrated by men). It’s also quite common to find civic-minded individuals being labeled as gay or lesbians as an attempt to discredit them, independently of their real sexual orientation.

Many people (and here I am not restricting myself to Serbia, but speaking generally) tend to dismiss the importance of Pride Parades, viewing them basically as gatherings of excentric people and even qualifying the participants as ‘freaks’ and exhibitionists. But the fact that such events get sucessfully organized all over the developed world reveals the level of adheasion towards the idea of tolerance and civic values more generally, and the fact that such events have been attracting an increasing number of participants, to the point that in some cities they are becoming valuable touristic attractions, reveals not only the level of tolerance, but above all, an important shift in mentalities in which differences no longer bother ‘normal’ people. Usually led and organized by LGTB activists as a way to claim their right to be different, the sucess of such events gives a clear signal to all homossexuals about their status in society, thus allowing them to claim also the right to indifference, meaning not only the right to be tolerated but the duty of society not to act in a discriminatory way.

Thus, Pride Parades and similar are nowadays a valuable measure of the level of autenticity of a given society towards civic values and a very important contribution to reinforce the freedom of expression of each of us, independently of our sexual orientation and of how we wish our sexual orientation to be known by others. This is a recent development, which has taken momentum in the last two decades. Since 2001, Serbia has been lagging behind, while in most european countries we have been witnessing the increasing recognition of equal rights for homossexuals.

The victory of the pro-european option in the elections in May 2008 provided a new opportunity for the civic sector to advance their causes. I had the opportunity to spend time in Belgrade last year in three different moments (February, July and September-October) and could observe how the political environment changed in a positive way once the new government was formed, but also how the reactionary nationalist forces were realigning themselves to face an unfavorable environment.

Clearly, it was in the interest of the government to project the image of positive change in Serbia. As I was told by a member of the NGO Youth Initiative for Human Rights while conducting a research on extreme right youth groups, everytime they thought of organizing any event, they had to bear in mind that there was a chance that it would be disrupted by extremists, but since the current government took office, the attitude of the authorities had changed completely, with real measures being taken to guarantee the security of such events.

The same message was given to LGTB activists, and, while homophobic incidents continued to be frequent, the approval, last March, of a law on non-discrimination which prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity gave strenght to the idea that Serbia was on the right track. Approved in face of strong opposition of the Serbian ortodox Church and other religious organizations, which unsuccessfully lobbied to have any mention to sexual orientation withdrawn, this law was crutial to meet the requirements of the European Union in order to fulfill the government goal of EU integration. This is a very relevant point. If Serbian citizens have been granted a Visa-free regime, it is, among other things, because the state committed itself to the fight against sexual discrimination. Minority rights don’t benefit only the minorities, they benefit society as a whole, including the sectors that oppose such rights.

During the last two weeks, I had been waiting with excitment for this event to happen. Everyday, Sladjana, my Serbian colleague, and I would engage in discussions about the importance of the Parade for Serbia’s european ambitions. Last week, a series of personalities had publicly given their support to the Pride Parade, and the serbian Ombudsmen declared he would be personally attending the event. While not openly supporting the Parade, the government declared, last Friday, “that state authorities should ensure the free expression of equality and diversity“, and President Boris Tadic reinforced this statement by saying that “the state will do everything to protect all its citizens regardless of their religious, sexual or political affiliation“.

Despite such statements, yesterday the government tried to relocate the Parade, due to be held today at the centre of Belgrade, to the area of Usce, on the periphery of the city, considering that it didn’t have the means to guarantee security otherwise. The organization refused this and instead preferred to cancel the Parade. Apparently, the government failed to grasp the meaning of relocating the Parade from the centre to the periphery of Belgrade. If the Parade aims to fight the marginalization to which the LGTB community is relegated, to have it on the periphery of Belgrade would completely undermine its goal.

The way the government in the end widrew its support reveals its essencial weakness and is paradigmatic of the commitment of the pro-european government towards the civic values that form the core of the european integration project.

The threat to disrupt the Pride parade had been publicly stated by the leaders of extremist groups like Obraz and ‘1389’. As one of  ‘1389’ leaders, Misa Vasic, declared to Osservatorio sui Balcani, “We all will be there, us, other patriotic movements like Obraz, the Red Star ‘Delije’, the Partizan ‘Grobari’, even the supporters of the smallest teams in the city (…) We’ll make a front of the ‘sane and normal’ decided to stop the gay parade in Serbia“.  Belgrade’s walls were covered by graffittis and posters with threatening messages such as ‘cekamo vas’ (we are waiting for you).cekamo-vas-v(Photo: Blic)

The extremist are not completely dumb and know, unlike the Serbian government that deterrence lies upon the credibility of the will to use force. So, to make sure the message was heard, nothing better than a ‘small’ demonstration. Thus, last Thursday, a group of French supporters of the football club Toulouse were violently attacked by a group of hooligans supporters of Partizan. One of the victims, 28 year old Brice Taton, was seriously wounded and is in critical condition.

The failure of the police to garantee security in the Pride Parade would undoubtedly represent a serious blow in Serbia’s image, and it was better to recognize the state’s powerlessness upon such a threat than to allow violence to happen and people to get injured or killed. But the question is, why preventive measures were not taken?

Furthermore, why is it that a democratic government does not take measures against individuals, groups and organizations that openly threaten to use violence? B92 reports today that calls reemerge for banning extremist organizations, including by Belgrade’s mayor Dragan Djilas. But why haven’t these organizations been banned already?

If Serbia’s pro-european government is to take a meaningful lesson from this episode is that Serbia cannot progress into the european path as long it doesn’t tackle the roots of intolerance, and that means openly adressing and refuting the heavy legacy of nationalism upon which these groups build their strenght.

UPDATE: 28 year old french citizen Brice Taton died today from his injuries.

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Filed under Belgrade, Freedom, Nationalism, Serbia, Violence

War in Georgia: journalists under attack

Although I had no intention to post anything on my blog before the end of the month, the images I just saw on TV on my lunch break while I was washing the dishes reminded me of this photo that I took in Sarajevo last year.

Here on GLOBAL VOICES you can know more on the attacks on journalists in Georgia by russian forces. There is a comment to this entry that is worth mentioning:

Someone signing Sherry says:

“””I’m sorry but these journalists do NOT need to be there! It’s a war zone, what do they think would happen…duuuhhhh!”””

The problem is, if nobody was willing to take the risk to go there, can we possibly ever come close to the true? Is not that the reason why russian forces are targeting journalists? How much cynical can one be?

I am sorry that for the sake of self-discipline I cannot allow myself to go much further on the questions regarding the war in Georgia, there are promises to keep (to myself) and deadlines to meet… (not that my opinion would have any importance).

So, to those readers who may eventually come here, I would like to recommend:

In Portuguese:

Brutalidade hipócrita e hipocrisia brutal, by Max Spencer-Dohner on Devaneios Desintéricos, my favorite portuguese blog (you will find there a comment of mine).

In English:

Czechoslovakia 1938-Georgia 2008? by Marko Hoare on Greater Surbiton.

I share with both bloggers the essential arguments that they present, especially in what comes to the lack of commitment on the part of Europe to defend its values and its readiness to make compromises, an attitude cannot but that remind us of how easy it is to indulge in ‘appeasement’ .

UPDATE:

Journalists killed in the conflict:

Gia Chikhladze, 30, and Alexander Klimchuk, 27, 8 August 2008,

Stan Storimans, 39, 12 August 2008.

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Filed under EU, Freedom, Georgia, Russia, Violence, War

LETTER FROM BELGRADE

This is a letter I have just received from a colleague from Belgrade:
Dear all,
I would like to share with you one information that made me very happy!
Radovan Karadzic, leader of Bosnian Serbs during the war in Bosnia, indicted before the ICTY for variety of serious crimes, among other for the Srebrenica genocide, fugitive from justice for 12 years, has been arrested in Belgrade yesterday night.
During the press conference that was held a minute ago the high state officials of Serbia have stated that he was hiding in Belgrade, his identity was well hidden, he was working as the alternative medicine doctor in one Belgrade’s small doctor’s surgery (he was healing people ?!?). He was arrested in a bus when he was going to work.
I know that this all sounds a bit crazy, but it is true.
This story has 2 points:
1) Be careful in the future if you want to seek the advice from the alternative medicine doctor 🙂
2) Most important thing – the law enforcement bodies are usually very capable to do their work – it is the political will that is needed to confront the problem! That could equally be applied in the case of combating trafficking in human beings.
Warmest regards to everyone from Belgrade!

Andjelka

Andjelka, it’s just great to have friend like you. In the end it is people like you that will rescue Serbia’s lost dignity!

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Filed under Belgrade, Bosnia, Freedom, Genocide, Hope, International Law, Justice, Nationalism, Non-conformism, Serbia, Srebrenica

SREBRENICA AND SERBIA some thoughts on moral monsters, bystanders and civic minded people.

On my first trip to Serbia, in 2006, I had the chance to attend two sessions of the trial of the Scorpions.

The Skorpioni were a para-military group that attained world fame through a video made public in 2005, where they are seen getting a blessing from an serb orthodox priest, and then killing men and boys in Srebrenica.

The shock that this video provoked forced the serbian authorities to arrest those that appear in the video and prosecute them.

In case someone wants to see those images, please go to youtube and make a search on SKORPIONI. you will find plenty of apologetic videos about them. Please do read the comments, they are quite revealing. I just read one that said “they were a good unit but they shouldnt of filmed what they did because it makes us srbe look bad” . I am not going to post one of those videos here because i don’t want to contaminate my blog with the language of hatred.

In the room reserved for the public in Special Tribunal of Belgrade, there were three groups of people:

  • a group of Human Rights activists from Serbia, the Women in Black, all of them dressed in black in sign of mouring;
  • a group of Mothers from Srebrenica, including some who identified their loved ones getting killed in the video;
  • and finally a group composed of the friends and family of the accused. there were some men in this group, but most of the group was composed by wives, girlfriends and the mothers of the Scorpions.

There were a few other people, five or six at the most (including myself). In what regards the international community, only the Embassy of the USA sent representatives.

As we entered the room, the group who came to support the Scorpions sat on the front seats. The Mothers from Srebrenica sat on the back, while the Women in Black sat between both, as if they felt they needed to act as a barrier.

By that time, my skills in serbian were very very very limited (now they are only very limited), and people tend to speak really fast, so what I mostly did during those hours was to observe the other persons in the room, as well as in the room where the trial was taking place, which was separate with thick glass.

It was not but one hour after the session started that I fully interiorized that I had monstrous assassins in front of me . Not that I didn’t know that. I had seen the video, just like millions of people did. I knew the story, but it’s like on a certain moment I became aware, as it suddenly stopped being just one more thing that I rationally knew about, to become something much stronger: that is the sense that one cannot be indifferent, that we just don’t have the right not to know.

On the short break in each session, these groups would go to the corridor and drink some coffee or water. Watching the behaviour of the Scorpion’s friends and relatives was much more shocking that looking at the back of the assassins as they stood on trial. They were chatting, laughing, and in between they would intimidate and harass the women from the other two groups. It was obvious that they believed nothing would come out of that trial, and even more that they shared the idea that their victims had got what they deserved.

Then, there was also the attitude of the police officers that were guarding the tribunal. They too harassed both the Women in Black and the Mothers from Srebrenica as much as they could, while discretely (and sometimes not so discretely) exchanging complicit looks with the men who had come in support of the detainees and admiring the sensuality of the killers’ girlfriends. While some of those women were dressing like prostitutes on duty, it was the girls from the Women in Black, who were outside the building smoking, that got a warning that they were not decently dressed.

Before the first session, one of the Women in Black told me that i would notice that those people that came to support the killers looked like normal people. This is an argument I often listen to when people talk about mass murder. Most of them did look like normal people, but there was a difference between them and what I consider to be normal people. They didn’t behave like normal people. Their arrogance and contempt clearly indicated that the concept of justice is meaningless to them. I had witnessed such behaviour before in other trials, albeit involving much less serious charges. A friend of mine was over-run by a car whose driver abandoned her and flee. The driver and his lawyer had the same attitude of contempt in court that I observed in the scorpions trial, that is a total disregard for suffering inflicted on others and the absence of any sign of regret, not to mention shame.

These people are normal only if we consider that normal people are incapable of feeling remorse for their wrong doings and the suffering inflicted upon others.

This argument about what normal people can do comes from what I think is a missinterpretation of Hannah Arendt expression The banality of Evil. As far as I know ( I dont have my books with me nor my notes, so I am relying on my memory), she latter regretted having used such expression precisely because of those misinterpretations. This argument, that is often repeated in this context( the best example is the book They wouldnt hurt a fly, by Slavenka Drakulic), is very appealing in the sense that it contradicts the tendency to judge people for their external looks or their origins. Anyone who has already felt disappointed by someone whom one had in high esteem can understand how difficult it is to know the true nature of people and the degree of moral corruption that a person can engage into.
But this argument misses the point on why is it that some people are able to resist and maintain their moral integrity. I believe the answer to that question was provided some centuries ago by the french thinker Ettienne de la Boetie on the when he said that some people are better able than others to keep the sense of the value of freedom in their minds even in the most oppressive circumstances because of their ability to live in a simple way, that protects them from moral corruption. In a way, this is also implicit in Hannah Arendt argument when she speaks about thoughtlessness. As Boetie identifies the habit as the most important treat to free will, so she identifies the refusal or the inability to think as the element that transforms seemingly normal people in moral monsters.
The problem is that normal people living in normal circumstances dont usually know themselves well enough to imagine how they would react or what they would become if faced with exceptional circumstances. In this I consider myself included. However, at a micro level everyone has already experienced or observed situations of discrimination, prejudice and racism. Unfortunately, it seems that most people only feel outraged by discrimination when it happens to them or to someone they consider to be close to them. This reminds me of when I was in elementary school. My teacher loved to beat and humiliate the most fragile children in class, but most of the other children didnt seem to mind because they believes it wouldnt happen to them as, unlike the others, they were smart and behaved well, so the teacher told them (she also told my mother that I was a good student, but my case was different because she didnt beat me but she used to beat my brother who had been her pupil, and this was enough for me to dislike her). So the fragile kids were seen by normal kids as inferior and thus deserving the harsh treatment the teacher imposed on them without ever realizing that they could very easily become the next victims of that sadistic frustrated woman whose sole pleasure was to mistreat the children who most needed her protection. Everyone in school, including my mother, knew about it and nobody did anything in their defense, because in those times it was still considered normal to use corporal punishment and psychological violence to *educate* some children. There was a great deal of conformism in such indifference, to the point that those victimized children actually interiorized that they deserved to be treated in that way.
This brings me to the phenomenon of bystanders, which is something that I find more difficult to understand.

I have given up on counting the number of people in Serbia that tried to manipulate me into relativising the seriousness of crimes committed during the wars. I guess I look dumb, and I do play dumb because I think it is very important for my work to listen to such arguments on first hand. It makes me sick, tough, to listen to some people that have everything to be qualified as decent honest citizens trying to pedagogically convince me about what “really” happened, and then doing their best to show me that the serbs are really nice people, excellent hosts and that I have the wrong impression because I was naive and thus manipulated to believe in anti-serbian traitors ( as if I needed to be rescued from those self hating serbs).

I have been studying about the rethoric of victimization in Serbia, and i also am aware that the reversal of reality is one of the most clear signs of a totalitarian mind-set. But at the same time, I often have the feeling that the strategy of denial, oblivion or relativisation used by normal serbian citizens whom I met in the last 2 and half years is in fact hiding a sense of shame that is sublimated as victimization and scapegoating of others. They need to denie or relativise so that they keep intact their self image of decent persons.

I am in Belgrade now, and today I listened to some young people who were teenagers in 1995. They remember, they know and they refuse denial. They face the hostility of the bystanders and relativisers, something that sometimes has deep implications to their lives, as those bystanders are often their parents, family and friends.

Unlike those other people, they are willing to go against the tendency to denial and oblivion. From their mouths I know that I will have to listen to lectures about the demographic strategy of the albanians, or about how the roma who refuse to integrate themselves in the serbian society all carry muslim names, and similar racist statements that I have heard too often. They are a source of hope, and the fact that they were able to organize and engage in common actions with people like the mothers of Srebrenica is a source of hope for Serbia too.

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Filed under Belgrade, Bosnia, Culture of denial, Duty of memory, Freedom, Genocide, Hope, Justice, Nationalism, Serbia, Srebrenica, Violence

CHILDREN’S DAY: the right to have fun as a basic Human Right

These children, and some others, have provided me with some of the most rewarding memories of my trips to ex-Yugoslavia.

I have chosen these two pictures because it is quite obvious that they are having fun. Having fun is one of the basic rights of every child, as stated in the Principle n.7 of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1959.

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Filed under Children, Freedom, Hope

Montenegro celebrates two years as an Independent country.

My congratulations to my Montenegrin friends!

I am now remembering how so many wrote that the independence of Montenegro would be a disgrace, etc, etc, etc. I don’t understand this widespread despise against non-serbs in my country. Some days ago, I listened to a conversation between two students of slovenian language, and they were talking about how the slovenes are nasty people, unpleasant, arrogant. I asked them “have you ever been in Slovenia?” “No”, they told me. It turned out that the only person of slovenian nationality the knew was their teacher. They are learning slovenian for free, because the Slovenian government is sponsoring the course. People say whatever about things they don’t make the slightest effort to understand with an easiness that never ceases to surprise me.

But it is great when the prophets of disgrace are proven wrong!

(The way these women from the old part of Podgorica received me, inviting me to enter their garden, allowing me to take their picture, and even offering me a piece of cake and lemon juice is one of the reasons why I am Balkan-addicted).

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Filed under Freedom, Hope, Montenegro

Kosova’s Independence and International Law: updated post.

One of my readers provided me with a translation of my text on Kosova’s Independence and International law.

This was very kind of him, and I am very grateful, both for his translation and his interesting comments, to which i still didn’t have time to fully anwser. The text published here is a slighty improved version of the one I published in portuguese in the other post, and the final section, after the photo, is completely new.

In February 17, 2008, before the Parliament of Kosovo, Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi declared the Independence of Kosovo, to which Serbia reacted, as would be expected, by proclaiming such a declaration illegal.

The Declaration of Independence stipulates that Kosovo will be a democratic, secular and multi-ethnic Republic, based on equality and non-discrimination, and explicitly mentions its connection with the Ahtisaari Plan, notably regarding the rights of minorities. If implemented, this will make Kosovo one of states in the world which gives the most protections and privileges to ethnic minorities. The Declaration also formulates the wish that NATO continue to exercise the functions it had under the mandate of Resolution 1244, and accepts the establishment of the International Civil Service an the UE mission as delineated by the Ahtisaari Plan.

The transition towards independence was prepared in co-ordination with the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France, as well as the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU, Javier Solana. Kosovo has already been recognized as an independent state by 41 countries, which thus took their part of the risks implied by such an attitude.

Such risks lie, on the one hand, in the fact that a non-consensual solution necessarily bears negative implications for the stability of the territory, and on the other, in the questionable character of its legitimacy since, according to International law the legality such act depends on the way one interprets Resolution 1244.

The ambiguous way in which it was written allows for two opposite ways of reading it, which in their turn depend on the perspective chosen to interpret it.

If a sovereignist perspective of international relations is privileged, the reference to Serbian sovereignty and the absence of a new UNSC Resolution are strong arguments against recognition.

Yet, if we give prominence to the respect for human rights and the principle of auto-determination of peoples, the perspective will be different.

The Resolution did not specifically define the method for determining the final status of Kosovo, but made an important reference to the need to respect the Final Act of Helsinki [1975].

The sovereignist perspective only invokes the articles related to territorial integrity and the principle of non-interference with the internal affairs of the states. Through that angle, not only the Declaration of independence, but the whole international involvement with the Kosovo issue since 1998 would be illegal.
I have opted not to retrospectively discuss the legality of the Kosovo intervention, since Resolution 1244 has legitimized it, admittedly after the fact, by invoking Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.

In what regards the Final Act of Helsinki, the Resolution does not quote any article in particular, and that document also enshrines the principle of self-determination, respect for human rights and the protection of minorities. According to that perspective, the recognition of Kosovo independence does not violate Resolution 1244, and thus such an option does not result in any violation of International Law, since the creation of new states does not fall within the competences of the UN.

On that issue Serbia, which considers the recognition of Kosovo illegal in the context of International Law has announced its intention to ask for an advice from the International Court of Justice.

It is my opinion that to interpret the Helsinki Final Act in a strict way, referring to only the articles related to sovereignty is goes against the spirit of this document, and ignores its real meaning and the historical value that it has had in the defense of freedom. In fact, during the final stage of the cold war, eastern Europe dissidents like Vaclav Havel invoked the Helsinki Final Act in their defense. While such strategy didn’t prevent them from suffering the consequences of their defiance of the system, it enable them to make clear to the world that their states had no interests whatsoever to respect the International Law, and specifically the agreements their governments had signed.
While applying the Helsinki Final Act to the case of Kosovo, we can neither ignore the degree of violence to which the people of Kosova was systematically subjected since 1912, and particularly in the period between 1989, when its autonomy status was revoked by Slobodan Milosevic, and 1999.
Despite the serbian government vague promises that it would grant Kosovo a special status defined by the formula more than autonomy, less than independence, the fact that in the recent past its autonomy was taken away cannot be forgotten. Who could guarantee that in the near future, this act would not be repeated?
If we take in account that failing to protect Embassies from being attacked and arsoned is a flagrant violation of International Law, why should we give credibility to the serbian government argument that by refusing to accept the Independence of Kosovo they are not only defending their national interests and territorial integrity, but also defending International Law itself?

As soon as I have some available time, i will post a text about recognition of States and international Law, however, this will have to wait.

To those interested, I reccomend the work by International Law scholar Alain Pellet: here you can find his legal opinion on the issue of self-determination and International Law.

Just for the sake of honesty, I am not a lawyer neither a scholar in International Law. But still i think I am entitled to have my own opinion, because what is at stake here is an issue of freedom and justice, which are subjects that are not the monopoly of Law scholars.

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Filed under Freedom, International Law, Kosovo, Serbia

Elections in Serbia: the failure of the intimidation strategy

The outcome of the parliamentary elections in Serbia gave me both a sense of relieve and of cautious hope for the immediate and long term future of the citizens of Serbia, as well as for the citizens of her neighbor countries.

I should probably be writing about what this election means for democratic values etc etc etc and about my hope that these results represent a watershed, or probably just presenting a cold analysis on the possible coalition deals. Instead of these kind of reflexions that are generally expected to be produced by a political scientist, here I am sharing my feeling of reward for the defeat of the bullying strategy. I am feeling like when I was a small school girl and my younger sister beated up some of the bullies that for several days had been persecuting me all over the school yard. I felt then that my dignity had been restored, and that never again I would have to fear thugs, because they no more than cowards who relie on their chosen victims perceived weakness.

During the last months (or should I say the last decades?), normal serbian citizens have been constantly subjected to psychological blackmail, being constantly reminded that their ethnic belonging obliged them to sacrifice their legitimate goals of having a decent peaceful life in order to pursue the supreme patriotic and spiritual goal of getting Kosovo back, because, without Kosovo, Serbia could not exist, just as a body cannot survive without its heart.
Those who were identified as capable of resisting such pressure were subject to intimidation, in open or insidious ways. I don’t like bullies, and it gives me great pleasure to imagine their intimate thoughts and to think how humiliated they amust be feeling now, and how they must be thinking how ungrateful are the citizens of Serbia not to recognize their sincere effort to preserve the spiritual unity of the country.

I am aware that this is a mean thought, but I have strong reasons to feel this sense of reward. I felt the oppressive environment that I had the chance to observe on my last trip to Belgrade as unbearable, and the idea that it could bear fruit had been haunting me since then. I though of my friends who had to cope with this on an everyday basis, and of the prospect of them being denied a normal life in a normal country.

Most of the Serbian voters didn’t need to be intimidated or induced into passivity, because they gladly supported political parties that openly promote racism, hatred and agression against whoever they decide o label as enemies. Serbia will remain a divided society, and the possibility that the fragile balance may shift to the wrong side will remain, as long as those decent normal citizens do not fully recognize that the values and life standards that they claim to themselves also apply to their neighbors, and that being free means also the responsibility to recognize and take measures to help repair all the suffering imposed on others in the name of the nation to which they belong.

I am not a particularly optimistic person, but neither am I a prophet of disgrace. It also happens that I come from a country which some very prestigious political scientist considered culturally unfit for democracy, and History has proved them wrong. If slavery, colonialism, apartheid could be defeated, racism too can be fought, and then a young man in Belgrade will not have to secretly self-learn albanian, nor will there be any problem that kosovar citizens visit this beautiful city just for the pleasure of a walk in Kalamegdan park.

As for me, I can’t hardly wait to return to Belgrade. I’ve just found myself the proper excuse. It happens that I need to buy some collorful new shoe laces… and as I can’t find them anywhere else, I’ll take the chance to drink some turkish coffe with my friends, and, who knows, I may even have a Big Mac at Slavija (most probably I’ll stick to cheese burek, but we never know)

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Filed under Belgrade, Freedom, Hope, Serbia

Dual Use: the pleasure of subversion.

I was supposed to be working now, and that’s what I will do in some minutes, but there is this subversive feeling that I have that compels me to something other than what I am supposed to. This extreme pleasure is perfectly defined by the poem LYBERTY, by Fernando Pessoa (if you don’t click and read it, you will never know what am I talking about-here you can listen to the poem in Portuguese recited by João Villaret).

So, instead of working hard to comply with the thigh deadline that I have imposed myself (I am my own tyrant), I found myself surfing in the internet without course, just letting myself go.

This is how I found this video on Boing Boing.

This Band, The Get Out Clause, used the surveillance cameras spread all over Manchester, UK, to shoot their VideoClip.

Unable to afford a proper camera crew and equipment, The Get Out Clause, an unsigned band from the city, decided to make use of the cameras seen all over British streets.

With an estimated 13 million CCTV cameras in Britain, suitable locations were not hard to come by.

They set up their equipment, drum kit and all, in eighty locations around Manchester – including on a bus – and proceeded to play to the cameras.

Afterwards they wrote to the companies or organisations involved and asked for the footage under the Freedom of Information Act.

“We wanted to produce something that looked good and that wasn’t too expensive to do,” guitarist Tony Churnside told Sky News.

“We hit upon the idea of going into Manchester and setting up in front of cameras we knew would be filming and then requesting that footage under the Freedom Of Information act.”

The whole news here on Telegraph.co.uk.

Those few of my few readers who happen to know me know how much I hate surveillance cameras, how much they upset me, how much I their presence always reminds me of Tienanmen Square. This makes me look like a paranoid person, so I have simply given up on complaining about their presence.

I feel as if I was myself part of the band (back to my self-imposed slavery now!).

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April 25th

This monument to the revolution of April 25th 1974 was inaugurated in 1997. Conceived by the portuguese sculptor João Cutileiro, who never made clear which meaning he gives to this sculpture, arguing that it for the viewers and not the artists to interpret a work of art.

It’s phallic format, as well as the fact that from the top of the monument a boast of water would flow allows me to consider two alternative interpretations:

Either the sculptor wanted to pay its tribute to the fact that during the months immediately following April 25th 1974 the greatest number of babies ever registred in Portugal were born, including myself;

Or the sculptor was simply making a mockery of all of us, citizens of Lisbon, by placing this tasteless ensemble of stones in one of the best places to enjoy the magnificent view of the city.

Although I should probably stick to the first interpretation, and even feel flattered that my generation would be thus honored, I tend to the second one, because, for the last 15 years (if not more) the commemorative celebrations of the revolution that brought democracy to Portugal and the independence to the country’s colonies have been nothing but a mockery.

During the fascist regime, the political police, PIDE-DGS, kept files of hundreds of thousands of citizens. In its headquarters, located in the centre of Lisbon, Rua António Maria Cardoso,n.20, thousands of persons were detained and brutally tortured.

On the day of the revolution, PIDE’s headquarters’ officials refused to surrender and shot at the crowd who has surrounded the building, killing four people and injuring 45. Thus, despite the myth that the carnation revolution was a bloodless revolution, blood was spilled, not the blood of the opressors, but the blood of innocent civilians.

After the revolution, PIDE’s archives were transfered to the national archives, and the building was closed and left abandoned for some years.

Now, as I write these lines, a luxury compound of apartments for rich people is being built in that same building. Instead of a museum, were our children and those who visit Lisbon could learn about the true nature of Portugal’s fascist regime, the destiny of this building is to become home sweet home to rich people. I have nothing against people being or becoming rich, but this is an humiliation to all democrats, to all Lisboners and to the people of a country in which the minimum wage is 400 Euros a month.

However, this issue did not provoke outright indignation within the portuguese society, only among half a dozen people who tried to mobilize resources to prevent this insult on our collective memory, but by then it was too late. This ‘closed condominium’ had already approved by the democratically elected City council (Câmara Municipal).

Some days ago, I passed at its door. I was traveling in the tram 28, showing a foreign friend the wonders of Lisbon. The common humble people who use that tram engaged in conversation with us, and an old man asked me to tell my friend what that building was. All the people in the tram agreed that this was a treason to the ideals of the revolution, and a deep humiliation to all modest people who live in this area.

But who cares? Nobody, except those powerless people who use the tram 28 to go home. They are too tired, too weak to do something about it, and among those who could have prevented this, it may happen that some will actually buy a house there. This is why I made a post evoking April 24th.

I just hope that the lucky owners of such apartments will have nightmares every night, and that they wake up feeling a strange pain in their back, that they will surely think is caused by their too soft goose feather pillow. But of course, the pain will easy go away, because there must be a spa in the building where they will have a massage that will relieve them.

This true story inspired an italian artist and architect, Giorgio Fratinni to write a bande dessiné called “Sonno elefante – I muri hano orecchie” whose drawing I reproduce here. I am sure he will not mind the fact that I didn’t ask his permission.

For those interested in knowing more about April 25th, here is the link to a very good documentation centre maintained by the University of Coimbra.

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Filed under Freedom, Portugal