|DIARY OF JASMINA TESANOVIC
March 26th, 1999 - 5 p.m.
I hope we all survive this war and the bombs: the Serbs, the Albanians, the bad and the good guys, those who took up the arms, those who deserted, the Kosovo refugees traveling through the woods and the Belgrade refugees traveling through the streets with their children in their arms looking for non-existing shelters when the alarms go off. I hope that NATO pilots don't leave behind the wives and children whom I saw crying on CNN as their husbands were taking off for military targets in Serbia. I hope we all survive, but that the world as it is does not. Today is the second aftermath day. I went to the green and black markets in my neighborhood. They have livened up again, adapted to new conditions, new necessities: no bread from the state, but a lot of grain on the market, no information from the official TV, but small talk among frightened population of who is winning. Teenagers are betting on the corners: whose planes have been shot down, ours or theirs, who lies best, who hides the best victims, who exposes the best victories, or again victims. As if it were a football game of equals.
The city is silent and paralyzed, but still working, rubbish is taken away, we have water, we have electricity... But where are the people? In houses, in beds, in shelters... I hear several personal stories of nervous breakdowns among my friends, male and female. Those who were in a nervous breakdown for the past year, since the war in Kosovo started, who were very few, now feel better: real danger is less frightening than fantasies of danger. I couldn't cope with the invisible war as I can cope with concrete needs: bread, water, medicine... And also, very important: I can see an end. Finally we in Belgrade got what all rest of Yugoslavia has had: war on our territory. I receive 10-20 emails per day from friends or people whom I only met once: they think of us, me and my family and want to give me moral support. I feel like giving them moral support, I need only material support at this moment, my moral is made out of my needs.
People are gathering at homes, to wait for the bombs together: people who hardly know each other, who pretended not to know or who truly didn't know what was going on in Kosovo or that NATO was serious all along. We sit together and share things we have. Solidarity and tenderness brings the best out of Serbian people. There it is: I knew I liked something about my people... My German friend phones me, she says, I didn't leave the country, I didn't take out my children, even my newborn grandchildren. I am fed up with everything, I want to lead my personal life. My feminist friend asks me to have a workshop with our group of consciousness raising, my other friend wants us to go to Pancevo, the bombed city at outskirts of Belgrade, to give a reading of my novel. But there is no petrol, we must buy bicycles. We phone each other all the time, seeking and giving information: I realized children are best at it, they prefer to be active rather than passive in emergency situations. We grownups harass them with our fears and they are too young to lie or construct as grownups do: they deal with facts and news.
Mostly we are well informed, with children networks, some foreign satellite programs and local TV stations.I think of the Albanians in Kosovo, of my friends and their fears, I think they must be worse off than us; fear springs up at that thought, it means that it is not the end yet. I have no dreams, I sleep heavily afraid to wake up, but happy that there is no true tragedy yet, we are all still alive, looking every second at each other for proof. And yes, the weather, it is beautiful, we all enjoy and fear it: the better the weather, the heavier the bombings, but the better the weather, probably more precise bombings. I wish I only knew do we need good or bad weather to stay alive?
And finally, I saw Benigni's film "La vita e bella"
the night before the first bombs fell. The next day,
it started happening to us too. Maybe I shouldn't have
seen it, but now it is too late: and I realize in every
war game led by Big Men the safest place is that of
a victim. PS. At this moment the alarm is interrupting
my writing...the alarm is my censor and my timing.
I switch on CNN to see why the alarm is in Belgrade,
they say they do not know. Local TV will say it after
it all is over.
March 28, 1999
Belgrade is still rocking, shaking, trembling: we are entering the second phase of NATO intervention. The alarm is on for hours, nearly 24, I need go out, to buy some food: we are not really hungry, we are not really falling on our backs, people who have been through a second or third phase of NATO intervention say it can get much worse. At this point people off and on the streets take pills to stay calm, or just cry to stay calm. The shelters are crowded, lively and sad. Children behave like soldiers, notoriously bad mannered Serbian children compared to, let's say, English or Italian. Young adolescent people are the most frightened and Gypsies, the Gypsies with babies on their fronts and on their backs cry, they will kill us, they will destroy us. I think they have been attacked anyway for the past few centuries, whilst adolescent people protest: we want our normal lives, we cannot waste our lives in shelters, first loves, first excitements. We, the others, behave as if we have time, time to stay frozen in a shelter for weeks and resume what is left of our life afterwards: just end it, immediately, never mind how, all the rest are details.
Every evening I go with my friends and family to the big underground station in the neighborhood: a shelter, I know people there already, of all ages and social types. They come with stools, and small talk. We think of making an emergency plan. In all cases, we try to list the many possible developments of the situation, hardly any can be good for us, common people who cannot believe anybody anymore, who have nothing but a few dollars in our bags and a lot of bad experience. At least we are not pathetic, I say and our children will not be spoiled. More and more we seem to me as some Indians, stubborn, ridiculous and honest in some absurd way: doomed to nothingness, to physical survival and a true null. I even say, my daughter will be a rarity, a true Serbian raw beauty, ready to die for nothing: won't some cultures love that? It will be so exciting for those who are afraid of lightening and thunder to see a thin teenager in jeans not afraid of bombs.
We watch news all the time, all news all the time, no good news, no precise news, but we do get some information, through the women and children's network. I watch Jamie Shea from the NATO press conference. He is terribly precise, you hear him you hear it all, our reality seems only a slight deviance from his course. But of course, it isn't that simple, if it was, he would be God and it would really be terrible to have a military God after a religious God. I fight for my computer every day, every hour, everybody in my family wants my computer, the only one at home, for playing, for studying, for communicating. I always hated computers but I use it for writing and for sending my ideas off to the world. I fight between the urge to write and not to write, writing in war is not like writing in peace, though for me writing was always a matter of biological urge to avoid the pain.
We heard from our friends from Kosovo, they don't want to speak on the phone, they are living already what will probably come to us in a few days: killings and looting of flats, houses, complete anarchy. For the time being we are underground, I heard somebody say that 8 million Serbs are underground. I just visit underground because I think it is part of the local propaganda to keep people underground, not to worry about their moves and more than elementary needs. When the sirens come on I deliberately go out on the street, says a friend of mine. The situation is the opposite of demonstrations in '97 when everybody was outside. Maybe we should set up an underground state with its new democratic laws: maybe a state run by women and children, according to their needs and morals.
The people in the underground station are sitting in the trains, for days. The first day they were frightened, restless, waiting anywhere around the huge place, on the sidewalks, benches, mobile staircase. Now they are sitting with barely enough space for their feet, hardly getting out to breathe other than the stale air of a train to nowhere. My friends are inside, a family of dour refugees from Krajina, two grownup sons. They say they spent five years in worse conditions, these are really good conditions. It looks to me like a trans-Siberian journey to nowhere, but I visit them regularly, bringing them food and blankets. They wonder why I go out. I say, yes, I am afraid, but I am even more afraid to stay for the next twenty years obediently underground, whatever happens outside. Not much does really happen, most of things happen in our insides, in our undergrounds.
I see a rich, snobbish woman with her baby son in a dirty train compartment. I wanted to say hello to her and then I stopped. I didn't understand or approve her being here: she could be anywhere, the fact that she is here is a sign of political craziness I disapprove of.