f, on Mon, 23 Aug 1999 01:52:31 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> 3./4. [texts from Belgrade, b92]

	dear nettimers,
geert asked me to send you some of the texts written on and after a trip to
belgrade earlier this summer; which is hereby done.
	take care


b92 had been taken off air on march 24th, a few hours after announcing
that the bombing by nato-forces will start soon. the staff continued to
produce a news service distributed via email and a programm available via
realaudio and rebroadcasted by anem-stations in yugoslavia and via
satellite. this was interrupted when the station was taken over on april
2nd by a state loyal management with the help of the court and the police.
the threat of banning had been already acute in last year's fall; parts of
the archive and the equipment were then removed from the radio's premises
and brought back after the immediate danger was over. this year the
station had taken less precautions, but though the police showed up every
day after march 24th parts of the the music- and the newsarchive were
saved.  the new management did not realize at once what they had
conquered. it took them days to take posession of the enterprises,
premises and projects connected to b92. sometimes clumsy they tried to
evoke the impression that except the people running the station nothing
has changed. when in may they finally succeeded in cracking the
http://www.b92.net-site (which was by then still under control of the
b92-staff) the new design included old symbols (but the webstream to be
received from the site is the one of radio belgrade, the local station of
rts; the service is rather unreliable); they try to make money by selling
cd's published by the b92-label before the takeover; they recycled old
jingles with the voices of b92-people despite the programm was completely
changed. it now consists mainly the so called turbofolk. d., member of the
old b92-staff and now working for the new b2-92 explains: "it's a trivial
phenomenon, unfortunately not very recognized by those who think about art
and music here. turbofolk has its roots in the late sixties when lots of
yugoslav went abroad to work in germany, france, switzerland etc. and then
original traditional folkmusic was transformed and that was called new
composed folkmusic. it deals with the problems of people going away from
home, working in a strange country and they are homesick for their
villages. this music was mainly played in those countries in kafanas, in
bars; here it became popular only later. the turbofolk of today is a
mishmash of dancemusic, parts of popmusic, hard rock, recently techno and
parts of balkan folkmusic including bulgarian, rumanian, macedonian and
turkish elements. so turbofolk is popular in the countries surrounding
yugoslavia; in a way it was an attack on the cultural life of those
nations because it destroyed the local musicproduction; in serbia itself
for instance the rock scene nearly vanished. gouvernment here was very
benevolent to turbofolk and despite their nationalism and hatred against
muslims they didn't mind the oriental influence. turbofolk is music not
for the peasants but for urban people and it keeps their minds away from
the real problems. it's a big industry and the mainstream today." so the
programm now broadcasted on the old frequency 92.5 and under the name of
b92 has it's popularity today. it can be heard in the pedestrian zone, in
department stores and gas stations - z. and d. told me that it was rather
torturing when a few days ago they had to wait for an hour for gas and the
programm was emitted by big speakers there at the gasstation.  the new
management were no radio-professionals; they were mainly recruiting of the
youth council of belgrade loyal to the current gouvernment. they claim to
be the legal posessors of the station because when the station was founded
ten years ago this organisation gave kind of first permission for
operation. to corroborate their argumentation they rewrote the history of
b92 (to be read in serbo-croatian at
http://www.b92.net/radiob92/index.html) and let it start in 1977; strange
enough their story ends 1990.  out of the need for professionality and
camouflage of the takeover the new management tried to convince members of
the old staff to work for them. all employees were invited one by one to
talks in april. z., another member of the staff recounts: "it was not the
first time that b92 was cut off; i worked for the radio when it was banned
back in 1996 during the protests against the repeal of communal elections
and then i was scared; but this time i was so angry that i became kind of
militant. and after i had the interview with those people who took over
the station in april i became sick, i had temperature and i suffered
badly." d. describes the interview:  "it was a very unpleasant situation.
although we knew what people we were dealing with i didn't believe that
those apparatchiks, figures from kafka's books still exist. i'm not sure
whether they all know about the beatles. we were asked to collaborate with
them - there would be only minor changes.  they asked me for instance to
work in a show and i asked them: what do you expect me to do? to do what
i've done the previous years? they answered that it will be slightly
different - the show would have a new title: 'you have to fight for your
country with your heart.' i said: sorry - i didn't work for the children's
department and they asked why, what's wrong with the title and i told them
that it reminds me on the pioneers from the socialist system. you can fool
them as much as you want as long as you let politics aside. but as we know
for the last ten years everything is connected with politics and it's
stupid to pretend we're living on mars."  no one agreed to work for the
new management; even the charwoman did quit.  50 employees and 150
freelancers lost their economical base or at least a major part of their
income; few had other financial sources; some went abroad, some men were
drafted for the army; most of the staff stayed in belgrade.  the loss of
the station meant more than a financial problem. z.: "for me b92 wasn't
just a station, it was a whole idea. in one moment of my life i realized
that everything i do is somehow connected with the this radio, that my
life completely _is_ this radio. many of my friends work there, many
others are passionate listeners - and those were in much worse condition
when after the shutdown of the radio because for them it was the only
normal thing in the city. and then i realized that i had to stay here and
to help this thing to sort out. in the beginning it was very hard to
concentrate on anything because of the bombing; later i got used to it as
you can get used to everything in life. i stayed home and wrote ten
thousand emails the day explaining people what happened and answering
questions about other people. The only other thing you could do against
falling into apthy was to see friends, not to be alone and sitting
together in the light of candles, listening to good music, remembering the
work in the radio and thinking how we should go on."  during the wartime
two websites were set up. while http://helpb92.xs4all.nl/ was organized by
non-b92-organizations with the goal to gain support for the station
http://www.freeb92.net was devoted to represent the real b92-staff as kind
of a backbone. After netaid 1, a webcast dedicated to the 10th anniversary
of b92 on may 15th, netaid 2-4 followed the 15th of june, july and august
with streaming from different places in the world featuring dj's from
those places and various bigshots from the international music-scene.
while the helpb92-site was stopped some weeks ago, freeb92.net became the
website of the station when b92 was relaunched by the old staff as
b2-92.immediately after the takeover legal steps were taken to regain the
frequency and the premises of b92 - until now without success. when studio
b, another radio- and tv-station in belgrade in june offered broadcasting
time on the frequency 99.1 the opportunity was taken even it was not an
easy decision: studio b is mainly under control of the serbian renewal
movement, the party of vuk draskovic, the chameleon of the yugoslav
political scene: once part of the zajedno-coalition back in 1997 he joined
milosevic's gouvernment later until he was dismissed in april this year.
the staff of b2-92 is aware of the problems this arrangement may cause
even the contract guarantees them independance: "we know that draskovic
wants to get back some political credibility with this deal. but we left
no doubt that we would rather stop broadcasting than accept any
intervention."  since all the equipment remained in the old premises after
the takeover b2-92 had to start under rather poor technical conditions.
the broadcasting studio under the roof of the beogradjanka, one of the
skyscrapers in belgrade looked like a relict of the real socialistic times
when i saw it in july: the speakers studio was a small room with space for
hardly more than three people, walls and chairs lined with brown imitation
leather and connected to the sound mixer's studio with a huge window;
there beside the console was little more to find than a recordplayer, two
cd-players and two old reel-to-reel-machines. the bureaus were accomodated
in three or four rooms down at 17th floor with perfect view over smoggy
belgrad and especially to the building at makedonska 22 that was the home
of b92 only a few months ago. preparing the program and equiping the
offices simultaneously the desks were loaded with packages, empty
coke-bottles, full ashtrays, papers while people were discussing,
chatting, soldering, trying phonelines, installing programs. the relaunch
of b92 as b2-92 first was scheduled to july 15th; technical problems
delayed it. z. told a few days before the start: "the iniative for b2-92
was born here in belgrade and i was so happy when i heard about it and sad
when it was delayed again and again because i can not wait to begin: i've
so many things to say. we will have this frequency to tell people what
happened and to stir something up. throughout the last ten years i had the
feeling to see a very bad movie but i didn't want to go abroad because i
didn't want to miss the last five minutes." b2-92 did start its broadcasts
for 12 hours the day on july 28th with a music-program; since august 2nd
the program contains again the news b92 once was famous for. and since a
few days the old news-service via email is set up again and distributed
via xs4all. 


	one astonishing perception - how little has changed since i've
been in belgrade some months ago. after all it was the first time serbia
was hit in it's very core since former yugoslavia disintegrated - even the
78 days of bombing in belgrade were rather a joke compared to what
happened in sarajevo (and to what happened in kosovo): no snipers, no
grenades, no siege; but the acute shortness on psychopharmaka during the
days of bombing gives an idea about how it was. i had expected that weeks
of sirens and detonations would have an immediatly visible effect on the
daily life here.  but the bars and clubs are still filled with fashionable
people, the supermarkets and department stores have domestic and foreign
products on offer and most of the people i met on the street were
friendly, helpful and rather interested to talk. it took some time to
understand that the situation ibefore the war was already desperate enough
that little increase was possible; and so it is less ignorance or
insensitiveness than numbness, exhaustion and apathy that let people
continue the way of life they led half a year ago; there is simply not too
much of an alternative. 

	but everybody has his and her story from the 78 days, they are
easily told, and the narrative gestures vary in the wide range from
excitement to fear. the bombing was kind of a public event that took place
in a parallel world (one of my hosts once mentioned in passing that she
misses spring.  that explained me the ease of talking as well as the lack
of accessibility - telling anecdotes often began with the sigh: "you can't
imagine ..." and ended with the confession that they can't either
anymore). by day people tried to have some sort of normal life, somehow
continuing to work as far as power cuts allowed; night after night they
gathered in kalemegda, the old fortress over the junction of sava and
danube from where you have a perfect view especially to new belgrade.
others stayed at home and instead of going to the damp shelters gathered
in their flats in the room with the fewest windows to avoid the danger of
splinters. the bombing gave traffic rules another hard blow - until today
it is common to use one way streets in the wrong direction or ignore
traffic lights and speed limits since it could have been a matter of life
or death during the alarms; friends told me that they used the bridges
over the danube only full speed after they learned what happened to the
liberty bridge in novi sad which was hit while cars and bikes were
crossing it. and when they showed me some places hit by missiles they
rarely could conceal from admiration about the precision they were

	the destruction in belgrade is concentrated and i learned that few
more than two dozen residential houses suffered substantial damage by the
bombing. so you could think to be in a rather normal place if there were
not window panes missing here and there, heritage of the detonations and
the lack of glass; you may even find some windows still secured with tape. 
st. marc's church lost some mosaic windows, too, when a building of the
serbian radio and television company (rts) was hit hundered meters away; 
the childrens theatre right across the street was completely ruined while
some other rts-buildings remained nearly without any damage (i was told
that high executives of the gouvernment mostly knew some hours in advance
which building will be hit by missiles; the desaster of april 23rd was
avoidable. the death of more than 20 rts-employees then was consciously
and deliberately risked - by the yugoslav gouvernment as well as by the
nato).  visible from a lot of spots in town is the usce-business center
that housed in around 25 floors beside some companies and radio and tv
stations the headquarters of the socialist party of serbia. the traces of
soot on the white facade make it resembling an irregular chess-board; even
it is a ruin the roof is used again as a place for a transmitter. but the
most visible destruction is a loss - on april 30th the more than 200 m
tall tv-tower on mt. avala was hit and completely destroyed. 

	from my hosts, two scientists i learned more about the current
situation of - let's say: the middle class. when i met the one in her
office on friday she received half of her salary for april: it was 760
dinars or about 70 dem (the dem is the inofficial second currency in
yugoslavia and accepted everywhere. the official exchange rate is 7 din =
1 dem; the street rate is 10-11.5 din). later the week the other got paid
for being in commissions for some 25 examinations: he got 1100 din. his
current salary is 2500 din; in 1991 it used equivalent to 2500 dem. the
lady told me the other day that the charwoman of the place where she
workes got problems with the municipality of belgrade, her landlords,
because she can't pay rent, water, heating and telephone. estimated
100.000 households in belgrade are in a similar situation.

	regarding this seemingly cheap things are expensive. on the market
in new belgrade very professionally made pirate copies of music cd's are
sold for 39 to 50 din. a bus ticket is two or three din; the fare for the
little boats crossing the danube in novi sad is 5 din/person; the toll for
the highway between belgrade and novi sad is 10 din for a car; a bus ride
from belgrade to novi sad costs 49 din, for the train ticket from novi sad
to vienna i paid 560 din. 250g of domestic butter is 19 din; domestic
shaving cream is 19 din; roses bought on the street are 2 din each.. for a
beer in an ordinary bar you pay 11 to 25 din; a gram of dope is said to
cost 50 to 100 din. for 5 din; the price of cigarettes depends on where
you buy them:  a pack of bosnian cigarettes is about 10 din; you can buy
winston for 20 to 29 din, davidoffs for 40 to 48 din, marlboro medium for
30 to 35 din. you can make a three-minutes-local call from the telephone
in a bar; to get connected to the web is 25 din/hour; a shave at the
barber's is paid with 40 din. a pair of well done levi's 501 from the
sweatshops in bulgaria or romania is 240 din; but you can buy a versace
suit for more than a worker's yearly income. a hoover from the domestic
production in cacak (must be from the stock: the factory was destroyed
during the bombing; i learned that in a shelter under the plant military
goods were produced and still are) cost 750 to 1400 din; electrical
kitchen stoves ranged between 7000 and 10000 din; an artificial fireplace
was available for the sum of 2200 din. 

	it's not easy to understand how one survives under these
conditions (especially if the rumors find confirmation that the dinar will
be devaluated soon); when asked most people shrug their shoulders. some
like the driver from budapest to belgrade make with own business the best
out of the crisis; some do second or third jobs. poverty economy, visible
already in january, came to a new bloom. kneza mihaila, the pedestrian
zone in the center of belgrade, is on sunny days kind of a corso where
friends meet, couples push baby buggies, kids trouble parents for an
icecream, policemen help chinese businessmen (on monday last week tv news
brought a ten minutes piece on the relaunch of direct flight connections
with beijing. i saw few other foreigners.) to deal with the vendors lining
the street. there's rather normal summer business like selling icecream or
silver jewelry; cd's and cdroms can be found here, too, and nationalistic
medals and posters.  postcards are displayed with the new objects of
interest in town, the burned ruin of the usce business center, the crushed
bridges in novi sad, burning factories or pictures from the damaged
presidential villa (8 din), a map with all locations in yugoslavia hit by
bombs and missiles is offered for 35 din; even the buttons with the
target-sign or the slogan "no pasaran" are still sold. fifty jokes in a
paperbag are available for 1 din;  and rather unusual for me were elderly
men offering to measure your weight on either electronic and talking
balances (2 din) or mechanical ones (1 din). round a fountain kids present
plastic toys, well-thumbed comics and hyperinflation banknotes (2-3 din
each); some sought shelter against the dripping rain in the empty windows
of the smashed american cultural center (the inside of the room is filled
with garbage; like a sign of scorn the only left piece of furniture in
tolerable condition is a rostrum). a deaf and mute woman distributed small
xerox' with the serbo-croatian sign alphabet on the tables in bars and
cafes hoping to find some coins when she comes back to collect. cripples
walking on their thighs were waiting for alms as well as gypsy kids dozing
on a sheet of corrugated board and women of unrecognizable age standing
the rain muffeled up in god knows how many layers of cloths. close to the
railway station you still can find the cacophony of electronic alarmclocks
side by side with dozens of cigarettevendors and young guys in track-suits
hissing "devise, devise".  most of that you may meet everywhere; but
rather not in that desperate concentration. another center of
streetbusiness is along bulevar kralja aleksandra, where some hundered
traders side by side present tools, sunglasses (even those for the solar
eclipse in august), toys, cigarettes, books out of little booths or from
bonnets. the selection of goods is poor and there are few buyers; you'll
find the same things being offered by different people every few meters.
other common businesses are cleaning windscreens at trafficlights and the
trade of diesel and gas along the streets (fuel is rationed and will
probabely be for a longer time since the destroyed refineries for instance
in novi sad are not under reconstruction.  per month and car 20 l of fuel
can be bought with coupons for around 8 din/l at gasstations and there
were long queues because the price should increase the next days; the
streetprice for gas is around 18 din/l.). and everywhere you can meet
gypsies with handcarts on the hunt for everything that somehow is useable
or can be sold. - beside this other signs of decay appear. the streets are
in a rather poor condition (learning that some parts of the highway
between belgrade and novi sad were used as provisional military runways i
wondered if the jets were really able to land and take off from there).
water is cut down from time to time so that in the bathroom of my hosts
stood a long row of plastic bottles filled with water (they told me that
in belgrade in summer there were always problems with the pressure but
that it was never that bad as this year). but the detail that impressed me
most was the patrol car we overtook coming back from novi sad - one of the
rear lights was out of function. i've never seen that anywhere before. 

	on sunday studio b broadcasted the speeches held during the
demonstration in nis the day before. estimated 100.000 people attended the
meeting organized by vuk draskovic's serbian renewal movement spo. my
hosts translated a bit and when draskovic himself took the microphone i
could not decide whether i should be more impressed by his professional
performance (not a boring speaker -he grabbed the microphone like a
popstar and walked on the stage [which was placed in front of a mcdonalds
restaurant], more spouting than speaking, a skilled demagogue completely
aware of his manipulative abilities) or irritaded by what he said beside
insulting the gouvernment ("red bandids" &c): when it came to the question
how to change it he expressed his hope that international community must
help. strange coincidences - as kosovo albanians before spo now likewise
asks for western support to get rid of milosevic (even it's clear that spo
will not give up any claims on kosovo).  everybody to whom i talked
expected a change this fall and the goals are clear - to make the current
gouvernment vanish and to establish a normal life where you can live and
grow up kids without fear. they all agreed that it is rather unlikely that
the old parties will be able to bring that change on the way, but nobody
had real alternative - they did not expect that there will be a revolution
of the people tired of their life conditions and wars even the revolts of
soldiers waiting for their pay were seen as a promising sign. some hoped
on an alliance of non-party specialists, some thought the reestablishing
of a constitutional monarchy could be a solution (even the present
crownpretendant lives in britain and his serbo-croation is rather gappy;
anyhow he could be a figur the people can admire and believe in which
seems to be of some importance for stability), some proposed an alliance
of church and army. the positions concerning kosovo were divided, and with
irritation i noticed some kind of nationalistic subtones (even they would
define themselves rather as yugoslavs than as serbs - often they learned
only at the beginning of the 90s about their ethnic identity): that the
kosovo-albanians are primitive and that they will endanger the stability
of the region in future with their sheer number (similar to the argument i
heard from the guy in the embassy in budapest: that the kosovo-albanians
have the highest birth-rate in europe). it seemed that everybody is hoping
for a miracle and expect the likely worst - another civil war that will
ruin the country completely. 

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