Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Hopeful Signs

By now, most of you are already aware that indeed CNN appears to have used footage of a riot in Budapest in its 'coverage' of the evidently none-too-impressive protests over Karadzic's extradition.

No doubt the nationalists, the revisionists, and the apologists see this as yet more proof of a grand conspiracy against the Serbian people; while it no makes such people feel important to imagine that Serbia is the focus of so much effort and energy on the part of a monolithic Western cabal, the real question over here is whether this was an honest mistake by some CNN staffer who simply cannot distinguish one small Balkan and near-Balkan country from another, or whether this is another example of the mass media doctoring the news to make it "sexier".

At any rate, far from being "proof" of an ongoing anti-Serb movement, there is actually a very different, and much more hopeful, lesson to be drawn from this. From the Southest Europe Times come this collection of blog and forum posts from Serbia:
Karadzic's trial: a new chapter for Serbia?

It should be noted that some apologists and revisionists actually used those riots as proof of Serbian determination to resist cooperation with the tribunal, and of ongoing Serbian hostility to what is frequently portrayed as Western aggression. Yet, now those same people will no doubt be claiming that the CNN deception is proof that Serbs are being demonized. Meanwhile, the tempest in a teapot that the Radicals pathetically tried to stir up is another illustration that more and more Serbs are ready and eager to move on from the dead-end politics of the 1980s and 1990s.

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Sarah from the wonderful Cafe Turco has a comrade and frequent collaborator from Serbia, Jelena Markovic, whose blog Invisible Sights is absolutely worth your time. As my final parting thoughts before I really leave for vacation, I encourage all of you to check out her site as well. I will be adding it to my blogroll.

9 comments:

Sarah Franco said...

jelena does not have easy internet access, she does not have her own computer and to blog she has to pay in expensive internet cafes, but I am sure she will be very happy by the fact that you are linking her so I want to thank you on behalf of her.

Daniel said...

I also have one friend from Serbia, and we've been in touch for about 3 years. He's been condemning Srebrenica genocide denial publicly on the internet, and as a result, 'they' (individual extremists) threatened to kill him. Since he received threats, he stopped signing his name on the internet.

Sarah Franco said...

jelena alredy started receiving threats. I believe she chose to use her name, and also to show her image because she consciously wants to.

these bullies are a serious issue, of course, but someone has to show that their little intimidation game does not work anymore. everybody is afraid of them, they bully everybody, especially if they their targets dare say it for the outside world to listen. there is a huge amount of self-censorship going on in serbia.

but what is most difficult to live with are the attitudes within the family, not the threats from outsiders.

Owen said...

Sarah, when it comes to outsiders commenting at Jelena's blog I'm sure there's a balance to be struck. Some outside comment will hopefully let the bullies know that they're being observed, but "too much" could mean her views being dismissed as a blog that speaks to foreigners rather than to Serbs. What are your thoughts?

J. C. said...

Hi I just found your blog and I am truly amazed, thanks for the great insights about Bosnia and South Slavic area. I truly appreciate it.

Sarah Franco said...

owen, you are right! there is that 'danger. I think she is aware of it, but I'll have to discuss it with her, because that is not her intention. now that I am thinking of it in the terms you pose, this will give us at least 2 hours of conversation (there will go all my credit on skipe!!!)

Jelena has 10 years of experience in political activism, so she has some notions about defending herself. Her problem is that she does not have much experience in blogging, but it's pretty much the same.

she uses herself as a character, so she chose to expose her image. it's an option, in my case you will not find a single picture of me in the internet, but maybe that's because I am ugly ;-)

in the blog she chooses to speak for those who want to read her, but of course she is targeting outsiders, otherwise she would be writing in serbian, and there is a good reason for that:

there is a lot of self-censorship on the part of serbs. some people who have very critical voices inside serbia are much less critical when they speak in english. they feel a duty of not 'staining' their country. I can understand that, but this only gives strength to nationalism.

then who are the serbs who speak to the outside? emigrants, people who live abroad, and most have a sense of nostalgia that creates in their minds a serbia that doesn't exist. it's that image that they 'sell'.

people from diaspora tend to become conservative, this happens with most peoples, not only the serbs.

you can see that in this post:

http://cafeturco.wordpress.com/2008/06/26/the-culture-of-denial/

let me mention that the translator that i refer to in that text has a blog on b92.

you come to my country and ask about serbs they know, and people will answer emir kosturica...

so it's important that someone who is actually living in Serbia contributes to show another picture.

in Belgrade Jelena is subjected to isolation, especially now that she left NGO activism, which is, by the way, becoming a mere busines, now that money is coming in.

but if some people in Belgrade see that she is visible on the outside, the cost of putting her aside becomes higher. on the contrary, she bocomes tolerable, and even 'cool'.
this is starting to happen, especially because her posts are being linked on global voices, and many people in Belgrade who knows her are finding out that she is writing a blog because of global voices.

so, she has to 'leave' Serbia to return to Serbia.

for instance, Eric Gordy linked her. he hadn't linked my blog, only after he linked hers he also linked mine (which was very nice of him, what I mean is that this means that her blog gained a life of its own independent of mine). they don't know each other and I doubt that he had ever heard of her, because she was invisible for outsiders.

she was invisible despite having won prizes and having a documentary broadcasted by ARTE, the french-german TV chain that is considered the Alpha and the Omega of european culture...

why was that? if you have watched serbian movies you will understand why. only movies who confirm the stereotype of the serbs being brutes, people with no refinement, are financed.

that image 'confirms' the claim that the crimes were committed because of the barbaric balkanic nature of people, feeding the idea that all sides are guilty... and at the same time presents the serbs as genuine people not contaminated by 'civilization' as if being rude was charming.

so, if she contributes to dismiss such image that so many outsiders find so attractive, that will also get her attention inside.

she is aware that change must come from the inside of serbian society. but no significant change will occur unless progressive people are supported by outsiders...

she does not have money to travel, and there is the visa policy, but she can travel by using the internet.

Owen said...

Thanks Sarah, that's fascinating, not just about Jelena but about some of the dynamics in Serbian society. I've never been to Serbia but my experience of Serbs has been rather different from the "crude" stereotype. The overwhelming impression of Serbs/Serbians that I have had is of very sophisticated, intelligent people, but people whose intelligence is very often sub/perverted by an overwhelming sense of their own superiority.

That's maybe why Jelena is seen as a threat. She doesn't claim to be superior, the opposite, she actually accepts the negative self-image that the sophisticates are so determined to reject at the cost of acknowledging their own history. She's a lot more forceful about it than some of the other decent Serbians I've come across, but maybe that's what it takes to make your voice heard over all these people who insist black is white, white is black, history didn't happen and anyway it's important to move on.

I don't think I'd like to be a front seat passenger with Jelena at the wheel and I'm not sure I'd feel very comfortable if she had me in her sights but whatever she's saying it seems to come from someone on the same level ground as us on the outside and not from the rarefied air of the Serbian Alps. Power to her voice.

Sarah Franco said...

Owen, I think that, if you knew her, you would like to go on the front seat with Jelena, but I do get your point.

In February, when Belgrade was full of people shouting that kosovo is serbia, she shouted to a crowd that 'kosovo je kosova', them she had to run fast... and I had to tell her that I, not them, would beat her really hard the next time she tried something like that, but in fact it was me, not her, who then put our safety in jeopardy, when I started taking photos of the riots and one of the rioters tried to take my camera from me. She then defended me very bravely.

so, just to conclude, the fact is that there are moments when the rosa parks inside of all of us has to gather the strength to say that she will not give her seat to the white guy.

that is not easy, especially when most of the people that surround you is composed of bystanders or people who do believe that it is your duty to give your seat to the white guy and even apologise.

so, on the tactical level, there is a balance that has to be met, between the case of jelena and the case daniel mentions in the comment above. the important is to resist the pressure for self-censorship. bullies exist because of the silence of bystanders.

Owen said...

Sarah, thank goodness for the Rosa Parkses and Jelenas, who help show the wimps like me where our backbone is (or should be)! If it helps Jelena for troublesome people to see us standing by her shoulder that's at least something we're good for.