The best art is lost art, recovered intro to my lost sony tape movie
I made a remake in 2003
Nefertiti je bila ovde from Jasmina Tesanovic on Vimeo.
The best art is lost art, recovered intro to my lost sony tape movie
Published in Balkan Transitional Justice
Jasmina TesanovicAustinMarch 23, 2019
Author Jasmina Tesanovic started the first internet war diary while living in Belgrade when the NATO bombing of the Serbian capital began 20 years ago – a personal document of life-changing moments, extreme emotions, human kindness, survival and death.
Twenty years in peace are like 20 days of war. During the bombings of Serbia and Kosovo, I wrote from the point of view of any anonymous woman living her daily life in Belgrade, with children, friends… fishing for food, water, electricity, cigarettes… Necessity was the mother of invention, so I invented the first internet war diary, before bloggers or blogs existed. My war diary was spread through mailing lists virally, 20 years ago. ‘The Diary of a Political Idiot’ got me many friends and foes, and it changed my life.
The war diary began when the first planes flew over Belgrade, with these words:
“I hope we all survive this war, the bombs: the Serbs, the Albanians, the bad and the good guys, those who took up the arms, those who deserted, refugees going around the Kosovo woods and Belgrade’s refugees going around the streets with their children in arms, looking for nonexisting shelters, when the alarm for bombing sets off.”
Jasmina Tesanovic. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Margery Epstein.
I remember life-changing moments in those days of war, when I learned about solidarity, human kindness, sharing, life and death. I remember a man on the bicycle who pedalled to my door from Novi Sad, 60 miles, in order to buy Hannah Arendt’s book, ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’. My feminist publishing house had printed a mere 100 copies, because of shortages during the bombings.
I gave him the last remaining copy of the Arendt book for free, and then he asked me if he could take a shower since there was no running water in his town.
I remember my teenage daughter telling me rebelliously she that preferred to die with her best friend under a bridge, and not in a stuffy bomb shelter with her mom. I remember my women activists standing in Republic Square protesting against the Milosevic regime, and writing a collective message/poem; we all had our identity cards on us, in case we were attacked by soldiers or police. I remember those long nights of bombing that we spent down in our gypsy neighbour’s basement, drinking rakija and smoking her cigarettes instead of dosing ourselves on sleeping pills.
Those were days of crisis when emotions and survival mattered more than anything else, those were the days that we all learned that civilian habits do not matter in war, that we are all in the same trench when it comes to the violence of warlords.
I also learned that we don’t need many things we imagine we need, that money and consumerism are pretences, that electricity and running water are luxuries, that medicines are contraband and that our neighbours are not the people we believed they were. The human condition in the extremes of war was so simple: every day that we survived was a beautiful gift and every good night’s sleep was an orgy.
Twenty years afterwards, nowadays, I have friends from all over the world who write to me with fondness about how they came to know me. As electronic text, online, while I was in dire straits, writing my diary entries as if each day might be my last, roaming the city for electricity to charge my laptop, and phone lines to send my email… and a gas stove, so I could take raw meatballs out of my purse and fry them for my family.
Every day was similar, lived between air raid alarms, CNN and BBC satellite news and Serbian TV propaganda. During the bombing of the Belgrade TV building, 16 lives were lost, although the regime knew that NATO was certain to demolish that building. I had stored some of my own movie footage inside that stout television building, because I was trying to protect my best work, and of course the bombs obliterated it.
I also shot a new documentary during the bombing, for a German TV production. We filmed on the bridges of the Danube while NATO propaganda leaflets, written in broken Serbian, told us that the bridges were targets. Milosevic was bringing in buses of civilians to stand on the bridges as human shields.
Every day my bored teenage daughter cruised the streets with her school friends, unbeknownst to me, to gawk at the new bomb craters. The asylums were closed and every night, mentally ill patients came to my door. They had heard that I had publicly stated my fear of the bombs, and that I offered shelter, company and drinks to anyone who would admit that they were scared, too. Many people came with sleeping bags, people I will never forget, though I never saw them again.
The worst night came when a school nearby was bombed. Our house pitched and swayed from side to side; often I still have nightmares of those moments of vertigo, of the physical feeling of my home collapsing. My daughter still flinches when a tyre bursts.
But I also remember those kind people from the outskirts of Belgrade feeding us for free in the nearby market, and black market smugglers selling us their wondrous toilet paper and soap for few small coins.
I will never forget my guilt and responsibility for other people who were once my Yugoslav fellow citizens, now aliens and enemies, worse off than I was, persecuted, expelled and killed.
Civilians and force-drafted soldiers, often raw troops hardly of age, had to shoot and shell each other, while others had to skulk around as war deserters, and we hid them in the towns.
Today, many other wars in faraway places in the world are grinding on, with scenes of bombing and despair, the modern successors to what we went through. The global sanctions are worse than the explosions, for the deprivations are the ‘killers without a face’. My mother died because of a lack of antibiotics in her hospital. But wars in general have become routine: if you don’t know who the offender is, then it’s you.
However, then and now, I refuse to be categorised as the victim of the Other’s violence. If you don’t know who the victim is, then become a peace activist and find out.
Jasmina Tesanovic is an author, feminist, political activist, translator and filmmaker. Her book about life in Belgrade during the NATO bombing in 1999, ‘Diary of a Political Idiot’, was published by Granta.
On Time: One Year’s Diary of Small Truths
I have decided to write this diary as time goes by. My small observations as time passes…. New Year’s Eve is just a moment of a year’s time, and I am interested in every moment that a year can hold, for every fraction of a passing second is as novel, in its own way, as the New Year is…
I always dreamed of having an ability to stop time, for better or for worse, or better into better yet… The transformations, measured by small invisible changes… I feel these moments and see them because I want to do that. I have no large abstract time anymore, no grand histories but lived experience, heartbeats of time, ticking slowly, as drops of life, as drops of truth, of order inside a chaos, of shapes inside a black void…
Only now that youthful passions have subsided within me, can I seek out peace in the unvarnished truth. Even small truths, mere passing details of a tangled historic epic, for I am just letting time be… in its flow… A trail of existence to nothingness, or vice versa… To find simple and calm joy in this universe which gave me form, and is now giving me lived sensation while slowly absorbing my form back into its informal infinity, nothingness, non-being…
As a being in this universe I need silence and respect, words which are few, but thoughtful… They might be not words but gestures, sounds, leading toward dance and music; everything means something …Meaning abides in almost anything, if you sharpen your senses and feel, hear, think, let it flow…
I swooned in a rural hotel in the mountains of Serbia, where loudspeakers played Serbian songs of lamentation. I didn’t care for the hotel’s chosen soundtrack, so I put on my own earphones, I tried watching a movie on my computer, yet then, all of a sudden, I heard nothing, saw nothing, except for that hot wave of lamentation, the traditional sorrows of of my fatherhood, of my motherhood, of my sisterhood.
People like me, but dead and gone, except that the moon was new and beautiful next to a tiny shiny star in this clear mountain air above this small, modest, extravagantly grieving village. I felt more emotion than the individual soul can bear: I was myself and beyond.
I fear these profound feelings, like lunar tides. They take me nowhere in life, except to my buried past and the graves of my loved ones. I returned to Serbia as an adult because of that call, and then the painful tumble of lament became a violent war that I had to flee to survive. I fled not only falling bombs but my rising inner demons, reviving a past beyond my lifetime, setting modernity on fire. That ominous moment in 1.1.2017, at 17.00, in a village hotel in the clear mountain air, still lingers with me…
I watch time go by like a careful cook watches the skin form on a pan of scalded milk. I feel time, I experience time, every tiny clue is a gift that reveals time’s passage…. The proverb says the watched pot never boils, but when you choose to watch that pot, there are really many simmering little clues in there, many, many.
Time is like a medicine, a narcotic, an anesthetic, a blessing, a hug, a surge of warmth, the smell of a baked cake… The dream of happiness…. This feeling of time that marches in huge eons, and the atomic dust of the present instant… I sit entirely still, in order not to disturb the placid flow….
When the moment of death arrives, it will have that same placidity, I know… We live on the cliff-edge of happiness, but we die in peace jumping into the void… Poetry fails me when I strive to describe this awareness of life within time, of temporal existence…. Only now, after so many years of knowing time, can I separate the true feeling of time from life’s other sensational elements, people, places, objects, plants and animals, the sun, the moon, the stars…
Defense, that’s what it is, or the death drive maybe, a religion without a name, a yearning for peace and order in a chaotic, opaque cosmos… Defense, an act of conservation, a tall wall, barbed-wire barriers, that is my counting of the seconds with my body… No one can trespass and attack if I am perfectly still, and if the flow of time around me is entirely unperturbed, then I can never come to harm…. No haste, no waste, no dreadful hurry to the final end…
When I cook porridge, I can see time seething through the grains of nourishment, grain that will seethe inside my body and out of it, back to the earth again… Grains of time, little vessels of the here and now, boiling, softening, digesting, and so tasty, too. What joy, cooking harvested grain for breakfast, one more sustaining loop in this earthly cycle of passage …
As I walk, in continuous footsteps, I realize the disturbance to my peace of mind in this awareness of rhythm. To count time, to measure it, to make time expand, to waste time, to run the clock, stop the clock, whatever…
To measure time is a distortion of the sanctity of human life, the existential wholeness of our emotions, our entire experience. Being above, or even better below, one’s sense of self is safe, it is dull but productive: by being timed, I become a vessel, a machine, a time-bomb…. I might break, go haywire, explode or implode, because I am a human entity, not a schedule or a set of processes.
But being human, I do have a brain, so I can measure, plot, scheme, plan, control my thoughts, my motions, my emotions…
A turtle and a rabbit are passing some time together. The turtle is a fan of history, while the rabbit is a race contestant. The turtle taps the brakes, the rabbit hits the gas, but time rolls on anyway.
The turtle slowly lives out his century, while the rabbit lives fast, dies young and leaves a horde of children.
As night-time flowed through my dreaming brain I had a vision. It felt like some perfect insight, a fable, an animal Aesop folk-story… But it came without words. My visionary dream consisted only of the turtle and the rabbit. My dreaming brain could not slow down to pound out a series of sentences…the visionary dream just leapt by, my unconscious mind bounding and cavorting, dumping all rational meaning like so much abandoned baggage off the back of a speeding truck.