Sorrow in the Balkans

In English, in French

Sorrow never stops in the Balkans. It’s the favorite topic, the inspiration, the poetic lament. It’s the history.

The recent flood that drowned the region, the biggest recorded since 120 years, as usual showed how the scale of human tragedy translates into human solidarity. There was more ironic black humor on display than I’ve seen since the NATO bombings of Serbia and Kosovo.

The Balkan countries are warlike and fractious, but they tend to unite when oppressed by a common enemy, in this case a fantastic Global Warming cloudburst. Soldiers and bayonets are worthless against the floods, the bad dams, the lack of any plan to deal with the reality of the climate crisis. Suddenly the Balkan locals forgot their religions, ethnicity, sexual and political orientation.

But not all of them forgot, of course. The Orthodox church official immediately blamed the floods on the ungodly tolerance of gays. In fact, even the gays couldn’t manage a political protest because of the floods.

River waves several meters washed away rural villages, leaving people stranded on the roofs without food and water, no medicines, no boats… Well-known scenes from disasters all over the world, but there’s nothing quite so real as major disaster in your own court yard. It was like the disintegration of Yugoslavia all over again, but in reverse, as Serbs Croats and Bosnians, against their own intentions, were unified in a bath of mud.

World stars reacted to the tragedy, from Novak Djokovic the local tennis star to Billy Idol, Angelina Jolie, Paulo Coelho, etc… Nowadays, only stars can draw attention to anything real happening in the world, for the world press reacts promptly only when the stars stopped talking about their costumes and marriages and mentioned massive disaster. Then many humanitarian concerts/actions sent money and kind words. God bless them, that’s the world we made, our stars carry the world’s sorrows on their shoulders when they exist just to look good.

Serbian politicians were the picture of hysterical pathos, outdoing one other with wild guesses and an obvious lack of accurate information and institutional organization. I bless the common people and their proverbial common sense. The heroine of the social networks is a humble Serbian granny talking frankly about her survival. It is always the most modest that prove the most enduring when it comes to general catastrophes. They have nothing to lose, especially when they tell the truth.

All over the world humanitarian actions have been organized to aid the stricken areas with relief supplies. The diaspora usually gets very active in those matters, out of sense of nostalgia, guilt, whatever. As a member of diaspora myself nowadays, I’ve learned never to speak in the name of those you are aiding. Let them talk: you should listen. No matter where you went or where you are now, their situation is waiting for you. Global warming is entirely global, it spares no part of the world, it is no longer freakish or unusual, and it can strike hard with no warning. Get ready.

After the three-day shock of the emergency situation, three days of mourning follow.

My favorite good and bad stories are these two. Upside: Gypsies came over to the emergency staff and said: we have nothing, we are gypsies, we have nothing to lose but we can give, because our women can breastfeed the babies! After the first startled moment, their offer was accepted!

Downside: an eminent professor from Serbia accused the USA of covert weather warfare, using the HAARP military science project to produce artificial clouds and the floods so as to exterminate the Serbs, who are of course the elected people of the world in this phase of history. These conspiracy theories never lack in natural disasters all over the world. These Serbian fables are particularly dear to my heart because they come in my own language of ignorance and megalomania. The HAARP paranoia comes straight from the legendary claims of Nikola Tesla that he could use electromagnetic wave power to destroy the world. Of course Tesla was a Serb (or a Vlach, which is close enough) and he serves as a kind of Moses for Biblical-scale devastation of this kind.

During the Yugoslav wars I saw and heard many of these conspiracy theories, which served as some psychic relief for the guilty consciences on all sides. But at least bombs were a genuine military action, hard to mistake for black magic evil forces. Climate science is entirely aware of why people get washed away by cloudbursts these days, but in our human neglect and ignorance, we Balkan locals like to call science some kind of corrupting force in service to a sinister New World Order. Instead of avenging ourselves on the big polluters who literally wreck our homeland, we talk about God’s wrath instead of carbon-dioxide exhaust fumes. We live in a miasma of ignorance as thick as the clouds above our heads. May the gypsy mothers and the reasonable grannies find some way to endure the dreadful failures of the high and mighty! Amen and inshallah!

Tristesse dans les Balkans
La tristesse ne s’arrête jamais dans les Balkans. C’est le sujet favori, l’inspiration de la lamentation poétique. C’est l’histoire.
Le déluge récent qui a inondé la région, le plus grand enregistré depuis 120 ans, a montré comme d’habitude l’échelle de la tragédie humaine traduite en solidarité humaine. Il y avait plus d’humour noir ironique en jeu que je n’en avais vu depuis les bombardements de l’OTAN en Serbie et au Kosovo.
Les pays des Balkans sont guerriers et turbulents, mais ils ont tendance à s’unir quand ils sont opprimés par un ennemi commun, dans ce cas-ci, une fantastique averse énorme du Réchauffement global. Les soldats et les baïonnettes sont inutiles contre les inondations, les mauvais barrages, l’absence de tout plan pour s’occuper de la réalité de la crise du climat. Soudain les habitants des Balkans ont oublié leurs religions, leur ethnicité, leur orientation sexuelle et politique.
Mais pas tous, bien sûr. L’Eglise orthodoxe officielle a immédiatement placé la responsabilité des inondations sur la tolérance impie pour les gays. En fait, même les gays n’ont pas pu organiser une manifestation politique à cause des inondations.
Des vagues de rivières de deux mètres ont éliminé sous l’eau des villages ruraux, laissant les gens échoués sur les toits sans nourriture ni eau, pas de médicaments, pas de bateaux…Des scènes bien connues de désastres dans le monde entier, mais il n’y a rien d’aussi réel qu’un désastre majeur dans sa propre cour. C’était comme la désintégration de la Yougoslavie une fois de plus mais en sens inverse, comme les Serbes, les Croates et les Bosniaques, contre leur propre intention, étaient unifiés dans un bain de boue.
Des stars mondiales ont réagi à la tragédie, depuis Novak Djokovic, la star locale du tennis jusqu’à Billy Idol, Angelina Jolie, Paulo Coelho, etc…De nos jours, seules des stars peuvent attirer l’attention sur quelque chose qui se passe réellement dans le monde, car le monde de la presse réagit promptement uniquement quand les stars s’arrêtent de parler de leurs costumes et mariages et mentionnent un immense désastre. Alors beaucoup de concerts/d’actions humanitaires envoient de l’argent et des mots de sympathie. Que Dieu les bénisse, c’est le monde que nous avons fait, nos stars portent les tristesses du monde sur leurs épaules alors qu’ils n’existent que pour qu’on les regarde.
Les politiciens serbes étaient l’image du pathos hystérique, se surpassant l’un, l’autre avec des suppositions folles et une absence évidente d’information correcte et d’organisation institutionnelle. Je bénis les simples gens et leur sens commun proverbial. L’héroïne des réseaux sociaux est une humble grand-mère serbe parlant franchement de sa survie. Ce sont toujours les plus modestes qui témoignent du plus d’endurance quand il s’agit de catastrophes générales. Ils n’ont rien à perdre, spécialement quand ils disent la vérité.
Dans le monde entier des actions humanitaires ont été organisées pour aider les régions dévastées avec des équipements de secours. La diaspora devient habituellement très active en ces matières, par sentiment de nostalgie, de culpabilité, ou autre chose. Comme une membre de la diaspora, moi-même, aujourd’hui, j’ai appris de ne jamais parler au nom de ceux qu’on aide. Qu’ils parlent : nous, on doit écouter. Peu importe où vous avez été ou bien où vous êtes maintenant, leur situation vous attend. Le réchauffement mondial est entièrement mondial, il n’épargne aucune partie du monde, il n’est plus insolite ou inhabituel, et il peut frapper dur sans avertissement. Tenez-vous prêt.
Après les trois jours de choc de la situation d’urgence, trois jours de deuil suivent.
Mes bonnes et mauvaises histoires favorites sont ces deux-ci. La bonne : Des Gitans sont venus auprès de l’équipe d’urgence et ont dit : nous sommes des Gitans, nous n’avons rien à perdre mais nous pouvons donner, parce que nos femmes peuvent nourrir des bébés au sein ! Après un premier moment de surprise, leur offre a été acceptée !
La mauvaise : un éminent professeur de Serbie a accusé les USA de guerre secrète en jouant sur le temps, utilisant le projet scientifique militaire HAARP pour produire des nuages artificiels et les inondations pour exterminer les Serbes, qui sont évidemment le peuple choisi du monde dans cette phase de l’histoire. Ces théories de conspiration ne manquent jamais dans les désastres naturels dans le monde entier. Ces fables serbes sont particulièrement chères à mon cœur parce qu’elles entrent dans mon propre langage d’ignorance et de mégalomanie. La paranoïa HAARP vient directement de l’affirmation légendaire de Nikola Tesla qu’il pouvait utiliser le pouvoir de vagues électromagnétiques pour détruire le monde. Tesla était bien sûr un Serbe (ou un Vlach ( ???), ce qui est suffisamment proche) et il a servi comme une sorte de Moïse pour une dévastation à l’échelle biblique de cette sorte.
Pendant les guerres yougoslaves, j’ai vu et entendu beaucoup de ces théories de conspiration, qui servaient d’un certain soulagement psychique pour les consciences coupables de tous les côtés. Mais au moins les bombes étaient une action militaire authentique, difficile à confondre avec des forces du mal de magie noire. La science climatique sait parfaitement pourquoi ces jours-ci des gens sont chassés par l’eau des averses, mais dans notre négligence et ignorance, nous les habitants des Balkans aimons appeler science une certaine espèce de force corruptrice au service d’un sinistre Nouvel ordre mondial. Au lieu de nous venger contre les grands pollueurs qui ravagent littéralement notre patrie, Nous parlons de la vengeance de Dieu au lieu des émanations de fumées d’oxyde de carbone. Nous vivons dans un miasme d’ignorance aussi épais que les nuages au-dessus de nos têtes. Puissent les mères gitanes et les grands-mères raisonnables trouver un moyen pour endurer les épouvantables fiascos des haut-placés et des puissants. Amen and inshallah!

Wired Next Fest, Milano

wnf-14-eighteenThe Indro Montanelli park in downtown Milan   in  three days in May 2014,  during  WIRED NEXT FEST was a meeting point of the best of Italian digital culture.  

       Spread within seven dome-shaped tents, from the Museum of Natural History to the playgrounds for children, with free chocolate bars on every stand, the display of the ideas and technologies for future gave me a warm feeling for the prospects of Italian society.  Italy is always on the verge of being too conservative, probably because there is so very much to conserve. 

     Odd conferences, vivid performances, live music and even a loud demonstration of angry cab drivers, which brought the famous Italian street rebels  to the venue, along with a crowd of Milanese cops in full riot gear. These cab drivers were opposed to the use of “Uber,” a smartphone application which would disrupt their business model.  Phones and databases are taking away jobs from humans — a kind of networked Napster for cars. 

     An American attendee told me, amazed: but I just came here from California, there people were delighted to have cheap, fast cabs with just a phone app!   Such an improvement for every passenger and cab user, what do these taxi people want for themselves? 

    A cab driver explained: we are already overtaxed, underpaid,  the state is not taking care of us!  

     A businesswoman from UBER was at the festival to explain her company’s arrival in Milan.  However, she was shouted down with firecrackers, bullhorns and derisive threats, so she stepped aside so that the show could go on. She was expecting the trouble, I was told.  Sometimes she receives death threats because of her phone application.

    We must find a way to be serious about these new and potent things in the world, the applications, the robots, the Internet mega-companies; they’re not mere technical wonders of pure and painless progress.   

     The  Oscar winning movie director Gabriele Salvatores, director of the cult SF film “Nirvana,” broke out in indignation when pressed for his reaction to recent Internet developments.   He scolded Facebook for abusing privacy and wondered aloud how Europe could fail to defend elementary civil rights online. It’s no longer the electronic world he knew, said Salvatore, back when he read the first cyberpunk books.

     The Piemontese inventor  of MPG standards said that digital music is accessible and fast, which is good — but that technical achievement didn’t have to mean the ruin of the music industry. Instead, he expressed disappointment with a society in which not just music standards, but seemingly every similar invention has been turned into a model for economic crisis, and the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few.

      Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, known as @astro_luca to his many social-media admirers, spent six months in orbit in the International Space Station.  He described watching the planet Earth every night through the space station’s glorious European windowpanes.  The explorer told us that there is no better joy in human life than to control the human fear of the unknown and direct that into great discoveries.  Awestruck Italian children demanded his autograph.

     Alex Bellini is a young Italian adventurer set on superhuman endeavors such as living inside a iceberg, or rowing across entire oceans.  Bellini told us that his major interest is exploring the limits of human physical and mental abilities. It was remarkable to see this traditional Italian derring-do turned into a life-story performance project.

     Near Future Design fiction is a new form of creativity where designers, artists and writers think and test their ideas freely by creating on the spot future scenarios.  Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico led a big workshop, using the topic of telepathy and uploading the results to Facebook. 

    Then came a cavalcade of internet video celebrity talk shows, musicians, novelists, celebrity chefs, break-dancers, scientists, and raucous comics with politically non correct agendas!  Thirty-thousand everyday people enjoyed the famous Giorgio Moroder DJ concert in the park, where electronic Italo-disco blasted over the happy masses. 

      Wired Italia seems to have found a brilliant combination of the very Italian big-scale piazza show along with hacker, Internet-geek informality. The combo felt awesome, truly vivid, brainy, engaging and emotionally genuine.  The Italian technoculture world seems to be finding its own way of approaching a good life, maybe even creating some brand-new and exciting form of open-source Milanese chic.  As was once said in Lampedusa’s novel “Gattopardo,” probably the most Italian novel ever written:  “Everything must change so that everything can  stay the same!”

Mermaids Trail, Guantanamo Bay

lyrics and vocal Jasmina Tesanovic
Produced by Yojimbo Billions

Mermaids trail Guantanamo bay

i ‘m just a truthful girl
from guantanamo bay
i’m just an activist girl
from guantanamo bay
and instead of let men die
This is what i will say

guantanamo bay
(black) death must go away
guantanamo bay
mermaids will sing to stay

i ve seen torture and death
of prisoners gone astray
i’ve seen torture and death
for men passed away
i ve heard screams of pain
from dens of (my) beautiful bay

guantanamo bay
no death here i say
guantamo bay
mermaids will sing to stay

i grow thorny angry rose
in july as in january
i grow my thorny angry rose
in january as in july
for the oppressor hate
who chains my open hand

guantanamo bay
no death here i say
guantamo bay
it is a mermaids trail

with the women of the earth
i want to cast my cry
with the women of the earth
i want to cry my song
no man, yours or mine
on my island will tortured die

Over Here

Over Here from Jasmina Tesanovic on Vimeo.

Pacifist remake of the song “Over There”

Yankee wants some fun
with a gun wants some fun
always on the run
on the run with a gun

Hear your heart and try to be
A true son of liberty
Hurry, go right home
right away, no delay

Make your daddy glad
To have had such a lad
Now your sweetheart will not pine
‘Cause her boy’s not in the line

Over here, over here
They’re going over here from over there
And the world is humming, The world is drumming
No Yankees fighting over there

So beware, don’t despair
Send the word, send the Yankees over here
The war is over, they’re coming over
And they won’t go back cause it’s over, over there.

Yankee drop your gun
drop your drone stop your run
Yankee show the world
that you’re not such a bum

Let somebody else’s flag go fly
yankee doodle doesn’t have to die
Once again be sane,
Show your brain, stop your pain

Yankee leave your tanks
no more tents, no more ranks
Make the whole world proud of you
and the old red white and blue

Over here, over here
They’re coming over here from over there
For the yanks are going, the yanks are going,
No yankees fighting over there

So beware, don’t despair
Send the word, send the yanks over here
The terror’s over, they’re coming overAnd they won’t go back ’cause it’s over, over there.

Lili from Belgrade

Pacifist remake of Lili Marlene

I am just a girl
from outskirts of Belgrade
all my loving goes
one day it’s gonna end
while I despair
of you my friend
your tender hand
your loud brass band
I m waiting in our land
your Lili from Belgrade

You march in the world
conquering all the lands
fighting like a hero
killing all your friends
I’m just a girl
from outskirts
from other times
and other worlds
your darling from Belgrade
your Lili from Belgrade

While you’re in a ditch
you call all women bitch
when your soldiers rape
a bitch cannot escape
think of your girl
of outskirts
of tender words,
of sweetest booze
your darling from Belgrade
of Lili of Belgrade

Belgrade under siege
invador’s uniforms
slavic girls to please
whatever comes their home
you don’t protect
me here my friend
my tender bed
our loud brass band
your girl from outskirts
your Lili from Belgrade

Lovers under bombs
by the barrack gate
I am not waiting there
because you ‘re full of hate
t’was there I told you
come back home
to your homeland
don t be madman
because I will not wait
I’m Lili from Belgrade

Internet Crimes

Recently I saw a movie on the life and death of Aaron Swartz, who is nowadays often called a martyr for the freedom of the Internet.

People, nations and governments like martyrs. They love them, they need them. Martyrs are part of our bipolar, black and white society constructed from good and bad guys, who always do good and bad deeds. Martyrs are those who have escaped our human condition, of being judged by people as people. Martyrs are beyond judgement, they become the scapegoats for our biggest failures, for the banality of evil, as Hannah Arendt phrased it.

I don’t believe Aaron Swartz ever wanted to become a martyr. He just wanted to live within a world that he believed he could fix, a world that was technically malleable and hackable, where he could be active and ingenious, even if that reform effort might involve a few false steps.

I find it unjust, unfair, maybe even outrageous to treat his suicide as a martyrdom. The legal machinery that crushed Aaron Swartz could have crushed any of us, at least if we happened to get apprehended and charged within the USA. We need to pay due heed to the fates of those who get singled out as examples. The system by its nature represses hackers, freelance thinkers or Internet activists. Some will die of that mistreatment, especially if they are neglected, or shunned, or met with public indifference and numb stupidity. The exaggerated honor we pay to “martyrs” is a guilty, posthumous reparation for our failure to keep them alive.

More “Internet martyrs” are clearly on the way for a host of nations. Aaron Swartz was a particularly brilliant MIT “burglar” and was therefore repressed with particular vigor by an ambitious American prosecutor. But America has a huge prison system with millions of people behind bars — everyone but bankers, basically. If Aaron Swartz was still alive today, having pled guilty and gone to American prison for a felony, how much effort would we spend to get him out of jail, or to help him once he was free?

Prosecutors of all nations will always play fast and loose with computer crime laws, if they think that nobody is watching or cares. Recently, three bloggers in Serbia were condemned to one year of prison with a particular ingenious prosecutorial scheme. These bloggers, who were writing under their online nickname pseudonyms, made some sarcastic wisecracks about a right-wing filmmaker who is a darling of violent right-wing Serbian nationalist goons. They bloggers were promptly charged and convicted with hate crime and death threats of this author.

This is the exact sort of behavior that the EU would most like to see out of Serbia: vigorous defense of an imperiled author. They probably didn’t expect to see this kind of hate law applied in a vigorous defense of the government’s own apologists and some street-fighting right-wing extremists. However, the current Serbian government demonstrates a true genius for stealing the opposition’s clothes. So here is a case of online dissidents and university teachers being promptly condemned and sentenced as hooligans.

Most anything said or written can become a verbal crime, if the rule of law doesn’t mean much. Back in the Yugoslavian Communist regime, a poet could go to prison for a single word, if it was the wrong one; singing politically non correct song could land a private in court. No Communist ever wrote laws or doctrine to make that situation entirely clear. Legality would have defeated the entire purpose of a totalitarian atmosphere.

You just had to know what was sayable or unsayable, sense it, feel it. If you did not feel it, then you were either hopelessly stupid, or an enemy of the state. Both the stupid and the enemy were entirely expendable. They provided good practical examples for the others, to learn the everyday behavior for a society devoid of rules.

The modern Internet jungle quite reminds me of those lost days. Much like the victims of the Communist regime, the victims of the modern Internet can be pretty much anybody who somehow demands too much, in some awkward, embarrassing or disruptive way. The modern Internet is overrun with spies, hacker thieves, intrusive databanks, filters and censors. This is no longer a free and pristine electronic wonderland — any more than late-period Communism was all about being genuinely communal.

Of course Communist societies relentlessly described themselves as liberated and avant-garde, and they even claimed that everything was freely shared even when shops were empty. It took real struggle to realize that this blizzard of official rhetoric just didn’t coincide with people’s lived reality. Today’s Internet users haven’t gotten this far as yet; they still talk about their “free services,” as if not paying for commercial big-data spyware was somehow utopian.

Computer communication systems were not born free. The original freedom of the Internet came as a second-hand unplanned consequence, as the work of brave activists and hackers, and as a glitch.

It’s only when you transgress that you can fully feel and understand the borders, the limits. Aaron Swartz’s big mistake was to believe in the limitless possibilities of a media system, just because he was good at coding for it.

Serbian computer users also thought they could permanently outsmart the technically illiterate police and blinkered Communist court system. That worked, too, for about a generation’s time. However, the current Serbian government isn’t by no means a tottering Communist nomenklatura. Today’s Serbian state system and its enthusiastic majority voters do not consider the Internet any obstacle to their nationalist and Orthodox religious ambitions. If anything, the Internet helps to reveal who their enemies are, not that they had many doubts. The new state needs new enemies, and new martyrs, too.

The Internet was once an oasis for those who thought and spoke differently, a global arena of public opinion in which to demonstrate the power of the powerless. That’s not how it works in this decade. But maybe that is good news of a kind: as we lose our anonymity, that old Internet in which no one knew you were a dog, the chains of the dog’s masters also become more visible to everyone.

Serbia is so small and poor that the NSA could scarcely be bothered to spy on it, the NSA being busy spying on its major NATO allies in the EU. However, living out of the imperial limelight has both upsides and downsides for Serbia. The downside is that the modern Serbian state has all kinds of unaccountable power over virtual Serbian life, but the upshot is that the repressed Serbian bloggers are still alive. Their quarrel was too small to get them liquidated, for there just wasn’t all that much at stake.

Serbia lacks the public conscience of a major third-world player like Brazil, which fought for years for its own, national, internet civil rights constitution.

However, Serbia does have one good thing: genuine activism in the streets. Recently, Women in Black from Serbia had a lynch threat on Facebook. The porte parole of the serbian antiterror police on Facebook, addressing his usual audience of right-wing Facebook hooligans, advised them to beat up Women in Black in the streets instead of uselessly brawling with each other. Women in Black have always been the target of hate and violence and foul language, due to their persistent street presence. However, to have this customary behavior blatantly revealed to everyone on Facebook changed the situation, and the Serbian porte parole will be suspended from duty for his indiscretion. He might even be charged and convicted of something or other,since Women in Black are presssing charges.

There must be some difference between the three Serbian bloggers, who were convicted of death threats and hate speech while meaning no real harm other than sarcasm, and this policeman, an agent of the state who would rather like the state’s opponents to come to some extralegal harm at the hand of thugs. That difference is called “justice.” The more of that you have, the less need you have to loudly exult about all of your martyrs.

Austin Music

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