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Bez Ideja 1959-1998

Today she would have been 58, my cousin Biljana. This is the content of her suitcase she left me after her death. So little, and yet she was a legend!

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Designing in San Diego

a talk show

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Women from East Europe

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“A Serb makes a good wife: she can pull the cart out of mud.”

That old Serbian proverb, its genius author has no name.    It’s like the earthy quip from a hospital that I once heard in real life; after her severe car crash, the emergency doctor told her worried husband: Don’t you worry man, those Herzegovinian vipers are hard to kill!

I’m personally half Serb and  half Herzegovinian, so I take these attitudes to my heart, half proud and half offended. But my American friend said: what about the Serbian and Herzegovinian husbands?   Are they pleased about their mud-carting vipers?  Is that the kind of proper home-girl that a local guy just has to have?

Good questions!   If enough years go by, a man gets used to the woman of the house, muddy viper or not.  But what about the opinions of the rest of the world?

Our world is a big place, so maybe a Serbian Herzegovinian woman is considered just one regional sub-class of East European womanhood. I might be called Balkan, from that mountain region of many fractured grooves, or a historical, fossilized ex-Yugoslav.   I was never “Warsaw Pact,” although that arrangement meant “Eastern Europe” in the eyes of the Cold War West.   I’m from a shatter-belt,  a corner cushion among conflicting empires,  a little regional federation that has vanished like the Austro-Hungarians and often resembled the modern European Union.   It broke up in blood, but that’s been the fate of most European alliances, eastern or western, northern or southern.

These days, though, in the fractious nation of Italy, a minor scandal has broken out.  A female TV talk-show host on the RAI national network suddenly recommended, more or less out of nowhere, that Italian men ought to marry “Eastern European women.”  She offered six good reasons, or rather six sexist stereotyped points, about how these foreign easterners made much better wives than Italian women.

They may be foreign, yes, but they stay in the kitchen and cook.  They’re women who clean the house.  They forgive adultery.  They become mothers but don’t get fat. They always dress decently.   They don’t whine, nag and complain.  And they obey a husband’s  commands.  These six female virtues make them great wives.

To tell the truth, I’ve been hearing these myths and traditions for decades now.   I grew up in Italy and can pass for Italian, although when Italians hear that my name is Tesanovic, they often assume that I must be a Slav off the factory-line or collective farm.   I was offended by that, but more as an East European than as a woman.

It’s annoying to hear that we non-Unionized Europeans are supposed to be poor, desperate and therefore obediently at the feet of the West.   After all, aren’t Italians aware that this same stupidity, ignorance and machoism is also applied to Italian emigrants?   If anybody’s women have the reputation of scheming gold-diggers, it’s those seductive, Machiavellian Italian women, and not us meek and lowly Balkan creatures, so blandly pretty and matrimonially faithful.   We’re wholesome.  We’re naively honest.  We’re tiresome and boring, we’re no trouble at all!

However, the traditional Eastern European concept of us kerchief-headed creatures has clearly changed a lot since Yugoslavia split up, the Soviet Union fell and the EU fortress hastily erected its own walls in response.   New prejudices always arise with new walls.   Nowadays, instead of being a communal peasantry, we’re becoming world-class sultanas and empresses.  Slovenian model Melania Knauss Trump is the First Lady of the USA!

Most of the current American President’s  harem women have a Balkan air about them, even American-born Ivanka, the daughter / heiress who seems to be managing the Washington palace while the current wife keeps her head down in her gilded skyscraper in New York.  We’re witnessing a modern psychological drama that closely resembles the intrigues of Hurrem, the abducted Ukrainian concubine,  who became the Ottoman Empress of Suleyman the Great.  Why her, why Eastern European Hurrem?  Because Hurrem was a viper, and she could pull that muddy cart, and also because Suleyman the so-called Great didn’t have any other real friends.

Melanija Knauss is an ex-Yugoslav, just like me.   She and I both sang patriotic hymns to Tito in our primary schools, with red kerchiefs around our necks.  Nowadays those Communist adornments are more ragged and forlorn than Janis Joplin’s dirty red bandanna:  freedom is just another word for losing your entire nation.   We thought Marshall Tito was our family more than our  leader.  The school song was: Comrade Tito, we  vow we will not go astray.  Now far-straying Melania is decked out in Ottoman jewels as an offshored one-percenter bride of a mogul.  Still,  this is modernity, so, presumably, that fate had to happen to somebody.

Hell has no fury like someone’s national womanhood scorned, so TV mayhem broke out over this Italian RAI TV talk show.  The commentator got promptly fired from the focussed social-media rage of vengeful Italian netizens, and even her boss was purged and her show was cancelled.  Italian women certainly don’t care for invidious comparisons.   But there’s nothing new about people making them.

Back in Italy in the 1970s, it was the Swedish girls who were cast as the ideal exotic brides. These Swedes were blonde and not dark, tall and statuesque and Nordic,  un-Catholic and sexually emancipated, ready to hop fully-clothed right into the Trevi Fountain, dolce-vita style.  But Italy survived that female threat somehow.

Now the entire RAI programme has been blown off the air scorched-earth style, as if Italian bachelors were in desperately short supply and all the girls have to scrabble.  Why are Italian women protesting about an Italian female talk-show?  Wouldn’t it make more sense if the women directly confronted their men?

And for that matter, why aren’t the Italian men complaining about their possible prospect of having to court and marry Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians and whomever?

Plus — what about the grievances of us East European women who happen to be in Italy?  To think that we never complain and lament is absurd — we’ve got enough daily grievances to fill the Roman Colosseum.    We’re the women of a soulful people with vast intellectual conceptual fields of grief, sorrow and historical disappointment, and the near-infinite spectrum of the sorrows of a Russian woman is, in fact, shockingly different from the handwringing of any Polish one.  Right now the Ukrainian women are bitterly upset about Russia.  What if you’re an Eastern European woman from one of those small and awful “frozen conflict” zones, where your ethnicity doesn’t even have any proper nation for foreigners to get stereotypical about?

But, well, who cares about all that mess? RAI certainly doesn’t. The network has only one concept for all of us splintered ethnics, mostly because their TV programs are never about the many sorrows of women of the world, they’re mostly about young, prancing, pretty Italian women who are  half nude and seem available.   Berlusconi used to be the master-of-ceremonies for that kind of regional showgirl parade, but it goes on with him or without him.

Italian TV culture  ranks with the most blissfully vulgar TV in the world, because it really knows what sells on a glass screen.  RAI is second to none in kitsch, misogyny and casually racist sexism, but those values go unchallenged because Italian national TV is a closed moral universe.  It’s by no means  all about us East European women in Italy, we’re merely the occasional collateral damage off their NATO airwaves.

Besides, there remains the primal source of the real anxiety in this little scandal, which is that foreign people really, truly are alluring.  They’re hot.   Nobody mentioned this prospect:  but what about the Italian woman in bed with the Eastern European guy?  How scary could that be, really? What if this intimate encounter with the Other  turns out to be incredibly fun?

You never know what the night may bring to a woman, as my Mom used to say. But you see, I really can pull a cart out of mud, I am a Serbian woman all right, for better or worse. Plus I am a feminist pacifist who is always, Always Disobedient!

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Luxury Open Source

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Milosevic, Berlusconi, Trump

I saw it coming, for the past ten years, at least. I saw small Trumps rising and tramping around, first timidly, then bravely, and finally boldly. Until Donald Trump got elected. I saw the same thing happening in Serbia and in Italy, at the end of the past century> They were called  Milosevic and Berlusconi. These three guys that have impacted my life in the countries where I live have things in common: they are men, they are machos and they are so-called typical men of their nations:  self-invented men who became potent, with money, with media,  with fraud. But the bigger they are, the more false they became. Pundits call our era a post-truth time where politicians act without having to give an account to anybody: god or voters.  This is nothing new really, there have been other such moments in history  where truth was subjected to higher instances: religion, ideology, weapons. It is not  new as a doctrine and some ruthless pundits  even claim it is not all that bad to  shake up this world of established truths with dysfunctional rules.

In this perspective I saw it coming. I never knew Trump even existed before he got political, though my daughter who grew up in Serbia under the Milosevic’s laissez-faire belligerent regime did know of him. He was loud on local junk private channels selling  cheap thrills while other foreign media were forbidden to the Serbian population. Sanctions were imposed  by the American government in the first place–those who put you in a torch, then sell you the goodies of survival, making profit  out of your misery. That’s how  bad guys make money on politically correct issues. Not that certain governments (not people, however) don’t deserve international community sanctions. On the contrary, we are lucky to have a community nowadays, bodies like UN, decent NGOs etc. But the downside of these measures or the abuse of them is that those who impose the sanctions will be the first ones to make a profit out of the new economic order.  Same goes with wars. Wars are profitable. They make a few individuals rich while most of  the population is miserable or killed, as collateral damage, even though they are the vast majority.

I expected somebody like Trump to   emerge from  the USA cultural and political environment   because of  the  very restrictive rigid and hypocritical political correctness. The rule  of politically correct law    was  imposed and sanctioned legally but even more frequently it was an unwritten  lurking puritan law. At moments  it felt like living in Soviet Union. But people are just persons and  humans.  Laws will not make you a better person, they will only make you an outlaw if you are not a strictly  law abiding citizen.  Even though democracy and laws are the best  we’ ve got  and political correctness is a code against discrimination, no doubt,  the danger is to throw away the baby with the  bathwater. Life is not linear, language is never fully politically correct. It is deeply related to the people who create it by using it everyday. And laws are an instance of regulating interpersonal relationships based on behaviour, language, etc.  However when a gap is created between real life,  everyday language,  beliefs of the living people and the  laws of a state, this vacuum becomes a dangerous playground for populists like Trump, Berlusconi, Milosevic, and, why not, Stalin and Hitler! Manipulative dictators open their dirty hearts stating the politically incorrect opinions present in many people. They act as leaders who speak the unspeakable truths about our imperfect human condition . Because people are often racists, sexists, selfish, violent, and unaware of it.   When asked how does she want to be called,  “gypsy” or  “rom”, my  neighbour answered  wisely: you can call me as you wish, but  I must have the same right  to call you as I wish.

I saw it happen slowly while I was in USA in the past 10 to 15 years in small details of everyday life. My collaborators, family, friends were too much absorbed in their personal virtual lives, personalised diets, abstract political correctness instead of stepping down from their one-person universe and dirtying their hands with the world, with the Other. Wellness and some kind of pretentious self-care made me nervous. But everything was on their side except for the phenomenon Trump, who was hurling like a snowball getting bigger and bigger on the neglected side of the enchanted mountains of the isolated perfectionists. From Silicon Valley geniuses to laid-back hippies  who never bothered to realise that the seventies are over and that holding hands, chanting, praying is not enough. And the money fetish in USA is  a bonding file rouge between the rich and  the poor. The rich because they are rich, the poor because they are poor: they all have excellent reasons to be money obsessed.

If you don’t have money you die in the streets; if you don’t have the money perspective you will have no money and you will die in the streets; if you don’t have the money rhetoric you will have no money perspective, you will have no money and you will die in the streets…

But  you cannot solve the one-percent question/problem, without changing the question, perspective…Is it too much to ask for common sense?

Well, that’s what Trump has, money (or the appearance of it)…and he will not die in the streets, but people will…trying to solve the post-truth riddles old as humankind that are distracting them from their human condition. Be it called truth or post-truth, every day we live in a real world with real issues. And what we believe to be truth, love, etc. Believing in truth is enough to find the truth. But in order to believe things true one must perceive them as such, emotionally, intellectually, scientifically. In order for this to happen, one must be honest with oneself, be active,  get out of bed, look outside the window, work, walk, study, think, emote…Americans, are you ready? To get out of your virtual worlds of gaming thrones… of eating disorders, emotional dependencies on cats and other pets… zombies and vampires. Another troubled non-beautiful world is waiting for you out there, you can reach it if you make an effort or it will reach you without any effort because it is here now.

In 1300, Dante wrote in so-called “vulgar” Italian his Divine Comedy. At the time, Latin was the official language of truths, but Dante challenged the official truths .  He was of course exiled as punishment, but his visionary poem is a masterpiece of his time.

Dante was not politically correct or a man of power or money, just a poet. Same goes with Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright from the 20th century who from prison made it to the presidency. Living in truth is not comfortable or profitable but healthy and necessary.

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In Bed with the Exotic Enemy

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