Where am I today?
On an island, about 1,200 km from Padina. There are hills here too, pine trees and the Aegean Sea. It’s a very quiet day, the sea is calm too, I’m lying on a lounger and I go back to the Underground bar in Padina, where I spent a good deal of hours with Pavel. It’s a bar in the basement of a house, with a small stage, a drum set, children come here to practice, to learn an instrument, to dream of a band, they have every right. I was glad to see youngsters with clothed that indicated their musical culture. They were rockers.
We are not going to talk about all the things my interviewee does, the functions he has. But we are going to talk about his group of friends, now somewhere in their 40s, who want a better, cleaner future for their children.
Pavel is a doer, an excellent one. And he doesn’t complain.
I started with my favourite subject. Albanian made ice cream, I mustn’t miss it, I HAVE to eat it. I later realised that the Albanian had a sweets shop in Covăcița, Uzdin, as well as here. And the boy serving is present in all three locations. He teleports himself to offers you the sweet sweets.
There were many ethnicities, that’s where we started from, whether Serbians or Bulgarians, Albanians or Romanians, Slovaks or Gypsies, Pavel and I speak to each other in English.
My mother is from south Serbia and in that village there is a river. During the ‘90s, when I was a youngster, I used to go swimming there. On one side of the river, the Serbian people were swimming and on the other the Muslim people. On the Serbian side there were only men. On the other side, there were pretty Muslim girls. So I used to swim there, towards the other side, where the pretty girls were. When I came home, my uncle had problems with the elders of the village and they were fighting, not quarreling, literally fighting, and me, I could not understand what the problem was. My first neighbor was Hungarian, the one across the street was Romanian and the other one was Serbian. Gypsies were living across the street, so I did not understand what the problem was and what they were talking about. So, my decision was to swim the whole summer on the Muslim side. This happened around ‘95, 20 km from the Bosnian border. This is something I am proud of, that we are all mixed together and we co-understand each other and we live together. And because of this, we are rich, and I feel rich. In a circle of 10 to 20 km I can say I have friends of many nationalities. Like a European Union, but in a smaller version. It was an experiment made by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and I believe it worked.
Would you accept to talk a little about the war and your opinion of it?
It is difficult, it is politics, I have friends in Bosnia, in Croatia, I have friends in all the republics of former Yugoslavia, some of them are former colleagues back when we were students, others by just living and meeting people, making friends and all of them say one thing: BULLSHIT. Many people died and a very few got rich with this price. I do not know, and it does not matter who had interest here, you name it, but the price was very high. I travelled to the entire former Yugoslavia, because of my profession, horizontally and vertically, and all the people are the same, the language is the same, feelings are the same, but politicians screwed it up. We, the plain and simple people cannot influence that. I had Muslim neighbors who managed to escape Sarajevo. The father of that family was a captain in the army, but the Muslims wanted him to fight on their side or else they would kill his family, so it is very difficult and sad stories. Full of shit. When I was young, I was a hippy, with long hair and I played guitar, make love and not war. And this stayed in my heart, why do we need war?! For some little group of people to make money?! I feel free here, I do not believe in the European Union, I have many friends in Europe, especially in Slovakia and they all believe that I am the free one, not them.
Tito? Why did all fall apart after his death? This is something my grandfather used to say all the time, back when I was a child.
He was a dictator, but not like Ceausescu. He made and maintained contact with the East and the West, performed good deals, but—there is always a big BUT—we are paying up to this moment the consequences of these deals. I have a salary of 400 euros, and this is not because this country has no money, but because this country needs to pay credits every month. My father who was born in 1947 and at one point he also used to say that this Yugoslavia will fall apart. Just as an example, color TVs appeared and not everybody could buy them. There were people who could buy one, others had black and white and other had none. You asked me who could buy a color one, the ones who were closer to the bullet. When Tito died, I cried too, as many did, the whole Yugoslavia, I was one month old. So I cried a lot. My grandmother used to say, priests enfolded in politics, it will be war. She was born in 1912, so she lived through WW1, WW2, monarchy, communism, Germans, Hungarians and she died half a year before the war started, she said she could not live through another one. And she was right, there was a war.
My father, for example, he used to have 3 million dinars salary and a chocolate bar, Najlepsia Zelia, 100 gr, the price was 8 dinars. Now, my salary is 400 euro and the same chocolate bar costs 100 dinars. When I was a kid, I used to have at least two or three kg of chocolate in the house and different types. I am addicted to cocoa. This wakes me up, not coffee. I am a chocolate maniac. So, I can buy 480 chocolate bars (The Most Beautiful Wish, that is the name of the chocolate) and my father could buy 375.000 pieces of The Most Beautiful Wish, which in this case is a chocolate. He could raise a family with his salary. I have to work besides the main job. I never work something I do not like. I make my own rakija, illegal or not, I want to know what I drink. In Serbia everybody does its own rakija. If the government would interdict this, it would be a huge scandal.
Many of my Slovakian friends from here, went to Slovakia and they changed. They wake up in the morning, brush their teeth, work, small pause, eat sandwich, work again, home, dinner, tv and sleep. When they come back here, they always say that we are the ones who are really free, because here we do not give a fuck about laws. You could start and apply laws here, but we do not obey everything, this is how we are. And the state cannot impose that on you. My children will not have the life I had, from this point of view. I am happy with what I had to go through during my life, not happy of the war, but of the people who were around me and what we were doing, the context, the stories and how we lived our childhood, youth and our life.
Photo credit: Mircea Sorin Albuțiu
English translation: Cristina Chira