|DIARY OF JASMINA TESANOVIC
March 29, 1999 - 5 p.m.
It is gloomy, it is raining, the alarm is on all the time. I have just heard that martial law with execution as punishment has been established. I still cannot believe we are living in war, we are living in a nobody's war but no less true and cruel and in tradition with what war is all about, false heroism and false excitement. Today I haven't been out. I heard some friends of mine haven't been out at all, all these days. As I said, the act of going out has become an act of courage. In few hours my life has changed completely, everybody's has, but still I think we are becoming at this point different people, in different situations, in different alliances. I gather my strength to be strong and bear the change. Children are changing, surrounded by fear, anxiety and four walls: we have to be creative even in these circumstances, like in Benigni's film "La vita e bella". As usual art comes as an advise, as a cure, and only after you get sick, never as a prevention.
March 30, 1999
Today no bombs. I slept 16 hours, no alarm to wake me up. The children went to a rock concert, a terrible rock concert with folk singers mixed with good groups, for children from the underground: a terrible audience too, a mix of nationalists and modern people. I hear they destroyed McDonald's; the café in my neighborhood is called no more New York but Baghdad Café. The fliers that people carry show a heavy vulgar sense of humor, not very witty and anarchic, right to the point as they usually are. A BBC journalist said, Serbian people are big-hearted, they wouldn't have killed the pilot of the fallen plane, they would have given him home-made bread and brandy as they claim. But how come then NATO generals claim that Serbians are committing atrocities against Albanian civilians: I believe them both. I wouldn't offer bread to the pilot nor kill anybody not even in self-defense, only when defending a child. Somebody taught me that, maybe wrongly, but that reflex I carry as compulsive. My God, we are in war, I just heard some rules about war, no contacts with foreign press, court martial for war deserters. People from mental hospitals are in the street, the hospitals are being used for the wounded. My women friends are all gathered in various humanitarian centers working with critical situations, refugees, Gypsies, old and frightened women who live alone. My best friend says, only when helping those who are in a worse situation than I can I stop my breakdown. She is helping Albanian women get out of Pristina. I am different, I get these strong emotions and visions which only by writing I can get out of my body. Without even understanding what I am saying, the words run ahead of me, they make sense to me only after they manage, if they manage, to penetrate my body again. I write so clearly everybody says, but I am so stupid, I know it, my writing is only an honest admission of my stupidity.
My father used to dream of bombings long after the war
was over, wake up during the night and take me out
of my bed and carry me out to the basement: sleepwalking.
I remember him doing it, I did it myself last night,
to my daughter, a few times. I feel as if a sickness
is getting out of my body, a long historical fever,
a buried anxiety which I inherited being born a Serb
of a Serbian father from Herzegovina: other buried
fears are that of hunger, and of unwanted children.
But the blessings are sharp survival techniques and
a lot of sharp and good-humored language: never give
up, the moment you become stubborn, not malleable or
soft, or vital, you are done for. We had a flood in
the building, maybe because of bombings maybe somebody
was absent-minded, maybe it is all my fault. I feel
guilty anyway, and responsible, more than ever, but
impotent. I feel sick somehow: emotionally and physically,
I feel like sleeping and sleeping forever, until the
peace comes back. Today Primakov is in Belgrade, the
Russian foreign minister. I dare not share any hope
with my need for hope. I stand immobile at a certain
reality point trying to establish it every day anew,
to fix it, nail it and act upon it.
March 31st, 1999
Fear has entered in my mind: I don't know if I dare think what I do, I cannot cope with reality: is it possible that we are all sacrificed for somebody's lack of political judgement, or worse, madness. I am censoring my thoughts afraid to think in personal tones, afraid to be heard, judged and executed. The conflict is escalating, the atrocities are daily happenings. I think of buying some pills for calming down, sleeping and sleeping, maybe forever, if it comes to atrocities. And I think of it rationally, not with pain, not with pathos. I am a well-organized person, especially in critical situations. I hate the fear in the movements and the eyes of people around me, I avoid them and spend time with children, they cannot have that kind of fear yet, or is it that they didn't lose it yet, after surviving birth? My head and language are getting stiff, they have to incorporate all these controversial meanings; I despise getting along in war, no space for feminine language, no free space. The fear is male-gendered, I can tell that, and our male persona suffers from it, even if we are women, acting as such. Women from women's groups and NGOs are rescuing Albanian women with families from Pristina in flames and terror: risking their lives, as usual, as in the previous wars. Yes, the new feeling I have this morning is that it will end, it must and it will, with or without us, the so-called details...
April 1st, 1999
We spent last night in a shelter, three grown ups, five children and two dogs. Actually it is a private house with a good cellar next to a very decent deep underground station where I spent the first night Belgrade was bombed, mostly inhabited by gypsies and mothers with small children. Our group was a large family, a psychological family, we make a group on a psychological not a biological basis. Our group was based I think on fear of being hit by a NATO bomb or some local warrior. Yesterday a band of very primitive vandals was roaring through the city destroying windows and screaming at whomever they felt was different. But then police with shields scattered them: finally the police were doing what I expect them to do. In 1997, during the demonstrations those shielded policemen were on the other side from where I stood. I realized I have no weapons in case somebody attacks me, the only thing I could take was a bottle opener and I did, wondering, would I be able to stick it into somebody's flesh if I was attacked. If my child was attacked I could do anything, so I thought maybe it is better not to take it with me.
We heard that downtown Belgrade was supposed to be bombed last night: it wasn't, so again we have to wait. My neighbors, refugees from Knin, said: I wish it was us tonight, so we can sleep tomorrow. The wife said: if something happens to my sons, I will kill him, it was him, my man who never wanted to go abroad, he wants to be a Serb among Serbs. And here we are, for the second time bombed to death. I said, it is not the same, she said: for me it is. I realized, for her it was, her script of history contained no other pattern than extermination. It is not paranoia, it is not lack of information. It is her life, who can deny her life in the name of Truth.
Last night we were expecting bombs in Belgrade downtown, CNN said so. Instead, three American soldiers were captured by the Yugoslav army, again, CNN says so.
It is a dirty dirty war, I say, frightened people in basements, bruised soldiers on TV without names, Albanian refugees crying on TV, all the time saying all those things people should never have to say, especially not in TV. Human dignity is here at stake, in all of us, actors and onlookers. My friend, a Yugoslav who lives New York, half Albanian, half Serbian, phones me: she says, I am living your European time here, I wish I was there with you.
But we here are living the American time, awake during the nights, dozing during the day: I guess we are living both times all the time. Tonight if the sirens go on, we may or may not go to the shelter: it has become as a Russian roulette choice, a matter of luck. Phase three says, targets in Belgrade downtown, who knows when, so we people in Belgrade can feel the same way as the refugees in Kosovo. But people in Belgrade know nothing about the refugees, only we few who already feel bad and guilty about refugees and Albanians and the war and the world as it is.
Today the sirens gave us more time: I washed my hair, I felt like an Albanian refugee in a safe haven, so NATO's message has reached me. Another thing: every evening, at dusk , my hands start to tremble without control. It goes on for a few hours. I heard that some other women have the same symptoms of fear of air raids after dusk. Men behave differently, they raise their voices and have more opinions than usual on matters of life and death. We are afraid of their death more than of our death, which we do not think of. Only in certain moments, images of violence against my children strike me hard: I nearly faint of pain. I think I prefer suicide to this. Yes, I am ready for suicide now, in case... in certain cases... But I guess suicide is a luxury in certain cases, one needs to plan that luxury. I do.
They ask me for an analytical comment for the Guardian: I cannot do that in this moment, who can, probably nobody. I think I cannot do it anyway because I don't believe in my ability to think ahead; if I had had it deep down inside me as I have some other abilities, like to sing or to dance, I wouldn't have been here now. My parents are alone in their flat, they hardly hear the alarm, they watch official TV and every now and then phone me, saying: don't worry it will be OK.
And I feel better, the voice of my father calms me, as when I was a kid, he gives me security, I don't give that kind of security to my children. On the contrary, it is a choice not to: this world is not a safe place. I heard that the French, German, American German cultural centers, in the center of Belgrade are completely demolished, I don't want to see the debris, nobody is collecting it, it is a new war sculpture, a public corpse, a warning, a reality we are invited to live with every moment.
Some of the graffiti's and badges: The bridge has fallen, long live the bridge, Adolph Goebbels Clinton, Clinton, Serbia is not your Monica, NATO troops kiss my ass, I want to go to school, Only your brain is invisible, Who sings has no bad thoughts, Clinton learn how to sing, NATO in mud, New American Terrorist Organization, We are simply the best.
Some Yugoslav pilots are honored publicly on TV by our
President; tomorrow we see in the papers on the obituary
page that they are dead. We have to speak up, to speak
out. If we stay silent, if we get frightened -- and
it is normal to be frightened and silent -- we have
no future, we will lose our future as well as our country
or voice. So become writers, become singers everybody,
people from the streets, underground, in the refugee
convoys, in the queues...in armies, in all those ridiculous
places where you feel safe when the alarm goes on...
When the little girl jumps in the flat above me, my
stomach turns up and down: how ridiculous, as if the
bombs were so tender as to tickle my stomach from inside.
Glass explodes, furniture overturns, people think of
volcanoes, earthquakes and other natural catastrophes,
incredulous that men can do to each other such mean
April 2nd, 1999
Today is Catholic holy Friday, people are getting mystical about it, because of the bombs. They see good and bad signs everywhere, in the pattern of day, clouds preventing air strikes, the celestial signs of a destiny. Another blow to the common sense of a common person.
The son of my friend phoned last night from the battlefield: he could hardly speak, he said he was somewhere not saying where and that he was OK but that some of his friends were not so. The age limit for the volunteers who want to join the war has been raised to 75 for men. What about women, no age limit, often they are even louder in their patriotism.
Arkan the indicted war criminal is promising on CNN lawful and merciful procedure for the three American soldiers: this is freedom of the press. Children are getting sick in the shelters, grown ups are emotionally distressed, our day/night schedule has tightened: we plan by the minute our stay out of home and as the night falls, we plan where and how to spend the night, sharing information we had during the day.
Radio B92 is definitely closed, lawfully, a court decision
has been made, new people have come, demanding the
old ones to collaborate, it happened in the last few
years to other independent papers. And still new papers
spring up. My hope speaks, you cannot stop creativity.
It is pretty much the same everywhere in the world:
even where you have absolute freedom, you cannot guarantee
creativity. I watch the sea of refugees orchestrated
from both sides on the borders with Yugoslavia, Macedonian,
Albania. It reminds me very much of the scene I saw
in '95, when Serbs from Krajina poured into Serbia
for days and days, without resistance, thoughts, or
ideas of what and why has happened. I had the feeling
it was orchestrated, everything except for the pain
and actors themselves, they were natural.
April 3rd, 1999
It is morning, a beautiful sunny morning. I am crying, I am relaxing. Last night the center of Belgrade was bombed with appalling precision, yes the military targets, but only 20 meters from one of the biggest maternity hospitals in the Balkans, the one where I was born and years later gave birth. The destroyed building was the Ministry of the Interior: some of my friends remember being interrogated there. I am relieved and happy with NATOs precision, it was even raining. But I feel visible, exposed to those young responsible pilots who carry their cargo wondering will they make it to hit the military building without doing wrong to a new born baby. They were all in shelters, the babies and the mothers, and I am crying, relieved, all this matter of life and death reminds me of a delivery, of my delivery, of being brave and crying at the same time. I wonder, which words can describe the relief of staying not only alive but not crippled or bitter, but physically and emotionally integral. I heard that in a village near Belgrade, a small village on the Danube in Vojvodina, peasants are looking for the American pilot. They are organized in an all-out war, a partisan guerilla action, ridiculous and most serious, as some 60 years ago or as in a film. I asked why in that village? My friend from that village said: probably they are doing it in all villages, all over Yugoslavia. And what would you do to the pilot if you found him, I made an inquiry, among children, among the researchers. Nothing, of course, they all said. Some would give him food and preach about the big Serbian people, mostly the grown ups, whilst the children would hide and feed him in a cellar. From whom, I asked. From everybody, like a favorite toy.
What a virtual, playful, cruel war. There can be wars lived from inside or from outside: as a matter of proper fantasy, or epic history. Or you can do it both all the time. Personally, my war is a horrid war, made of terrible images of the killings of my dearest and torture and rape ... Those images haunt me when the alarm goes off, it is them that made my hair go white, in one night, last night. The first time I got white hair was ten years ago, at the border with Slovenia, when a drunken customs officer harassed us because we were Serbs from the still existing federation called Yugoslavia. I knew that was only the beginning, as I know that this is the end, I hope not only for me but for all of us. I feel solidarity with all people in war in every century or country. We receive emails from all over the world from such people, people in war or who have been in war. But then, who hasn't, it is only now our turn. A bad, bad world.
On BBC, CNN, SKY TV commentators already speak of the war as a chess game between a very talented human, FRY, and a big humanized but imperfect machine, NATO, praising the skill of human all the time as well as finding flaws in the high technology, thanks to the human enemy. And then the refugees, and then our heavy nights, but nobody really tries to put that picture together. I am supposed to go to Budapest with my daughter: I am wondering is it safe, the roads, and then in Budapest, whom can I turn to, will I be just a Serb or somebody with a face and a story. Years ago, in '92, as a well-off refugee, I spilled many tears because of the offences I had to put up with. It was more than I could bear, I just ran back home, whatever it would be like. Probably I was spoiled but then, frozen bank accounts, a severe if not impossible visa regime, not even the cheapest jobs available clearly pointed out that we were even less wanted than refugees from other countries, if wanted at all. All the lack of love I suffered in the past came back to me as a wave of unbearable pain, I wished I wasn't born. Now, that kind of exile I cannot stand anymore, that life is too degrading for my child. I prefer hunger and danger, it keeps you vital, it doesn't destroy the human side to war.