The Independent, 5-6-99

Writers on the War - Reading the Bible
in a bomb shelter
Vladimir Arsenijevic - Serbian writer
and member of the International
Parliament of Writers
It is not simple to live under siege.
But is there anything at all that we
haven't lived through? For years,
everything around us has been
thundering, so it is natural that we
have learned how to be tough.
We know how to withdraw into our shell,
if necessary. We are not interested in
details. We know how to live through
the consequences of utterly
irresponsible, destructive rule, but we
also know that nothing in this world is
We have seen terrible events
approaching like a typhoon. And we saw
them leave, having trampled over us.
All those inter-republic antagonisms
from the end of Eighties (ugly,
nationalistic rhetoric, big economic
convulsions, the establishment of a
policy of hatred and spite). We saw
three wars, each worse, more brutal and
longer then the one before - in
Slovenia, Croatia and
Bosnia-Herzegovina - tearing away all
relations with the citizens of those
republics that existed before.
We are so used to continuous decline
that we are not too surprised that we
are now bombed by the whole Nato pact,
with its all might, as if all of us
together took part in those infamous
negotiations in European castles,
together with drinks, which preceded
military action - all of us, instead of
group of hard-line negotiators.
Godzilla, naturally, does not look much
where it treads. Likewise Nato, from
the first day of its action, hits left
and right. In the name of what is all
this; for whose benefit?
And when all that has ever been worth
anything around here is meticulously
bombed and demolished, the
representatives of the Western powers
will arrive among the ruins to
negotiate with the same hard
negotiators they have dealt with before
instead of the generals who are
operating at the moment. As if nothing
had happened they are going to shake
hands, pose in front of the cameras and
give statements about the results of
negotiations in front of crowded
journalists and cameramen.
Since nobody takes care of us, the only
thing left to us is to take care of
ourselves. After all, spring is here
and people don't have time for a long
lamentation. During the day, regardless
of always-present possibility of air
strikes, the streets are full.
Disregarding the bombing, my fellow
citizens are seeking a way to relax:
they sip coffee in the city's open
restaurants, they take their children
to parks, they visit bookstores, go to
cinemas and theatres where there are
matinees instead of night shows. The
streets are full of youth because
schools are not open. People are more
careful with each other than before.
There is a feeling of togetherness in
front of an enormous enemy, but I think
that the spring is, above all, playing
a part. It brings back our balance and
saves us.
Of course, there is a darker side of
our life under siege. In spite of the
apparent casualness, grave consequences
are already felt. Psychosis is huge,
and emotions collective and enormous.
The feeling of being endangered by an
invisible aggressor is helping many to
forget what has led to this attack of
"fascist Nato hordes", as the alliance
is called in the domestic media.
The power that Nato, with its
thoughtless deeds, has given to
Slobodan Milosevic is immeasurable. The
feeling of defeat among free-thinking
intellectuals, writers and artists can
be measured by the fear and concern
they feel when contemplating their own
Opposition parties of liberal
orientation are practically
non-existent; independent media are
totally abolished. The university, as a
centre of resistance to Slobodan
Milosevic's unreasonable policies, is
suppressed. In Belgrade, as in Kosovo,
a systematic repression has been
undertaken and people are naturally
afraid of reprisals and revenge. My
friend was loudly criticising a group
of people who threw stones at the
demolished window of the American
cultural centre in Knez Mihajlo Street
in Belgrade. In a twinkling, a few of
them turned against her, so she had to
withdraw. These are the occasions when
words like "foreign mercenary",
"traitor" or "fifth columnist" easily
emerge on the surface and become a part
of everyday vocabulary.
We are exhausted. That's what all this
is about - we are not worried about the
fear or hunger, or death, but only this
heavy weariness which we feel to the
bone. We don't have much energy left.
We don't know how long we are going to
last, we don't know what else we could
do, we don't know why is all this
happening to us, we don't understand
where is our mistake, and we ask
ourselves, does anyone know about us?
We, the normal ones.
This article is from a series produced
by the International Parliament of

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