f, on Mon, 23 Aug 1999 13:13:55 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Belgrade Diary 1/2


with an invitation from the national museum in belgrade i applied for a
visum to belgrade. fortunately austria hesitated long enough to become
member of nato - so the consulate in vienna was never closed as the one in
germany still is. this made the first step to get the visum easier; there
were still more to go and i learned them one by one.

to enter the consulate in vienna turned out to be the second step. a
rather massive guard stood outside the door during opening time telling
everybody to come another day and handing out forms and numbers for the
queue then; only the few seemingly having applied for a date the week
before he allowed to pass. i drove back home and called the consulate to
explain my situation; mrs t. advised me to come again immediately and so i
did. persuading the guard i stepped in the hall filled with some 60 people
sweating, arguing, waiting. the door i had to wait in front of sometimes
was opened and people were let in; charme, chat and chic seemed to be the
necessary qualities to take this step, my third.

finally i was waved in and met mrs. t.; i gave her the invitation, my
passport, the residence permit for vienna. she xeroxed them all, i had to
fill out a form and that was all. i should be a clear case, she said; i
asked her when i might get the visum expecting it might take one or two
days; she recommended patience.

waiting turned out to be the most consuming step. i called mrs t. every
day and invisibly she shrugged her shoulders on the phone - no ok from
belgrade. after five days i decided to continue waiting in budapest and
celebrate a friend's birthday. i told mrs t. that i will wait for things
to happen there and she promised to forward the ok to the consulate. it
turned out to be round the corner of my friends' place. i went there on
monday and explained the situation; but they had neither news from
belgrade nor from vienna. i went there again on tuesday - unchanged; but i
was told that some pressure on the ministry of foreign affairs in belgrade
could accelerate the process. i contacted my friends and a diplomat there
and they promised to help me. there was nothing more to do then waiting.

on wednesday i did some shopping; i thought it may be a good idea to show
up at the consulate again. i arrived ten minutes before they closed doors.
i learned that the lady i was negotiating with the days before was out;
the only other one waiting for a visum was a canadian journalist. we were
told to wait for her, started chatting and smoked some cigarettes. she
came back with another official who later turned out to be mr. d., first
secretary of the embassy; he came to us, we shook hands and he asked us to
join him. he led us to a small room, offered a seat and a cigarette and
started to talk. we were given an examination and - well: a rather
sophisticated version of propaganda with the urge to understand his ("i'm
first a man and than a serb") and the official serbian sight as well. the
journalist had come from belgrade the same day after some months of work;
so the two had the main part of the conversation with me, the na´ve art
historian as third party silent. in fact it was less an interview or a
discussion than a lecture: numbers, data, events and quotations from
hobbes to churchill kept popping out of mr. d.'s mouth. he communicated
doubts ("milosevic is not an angel"; "the way it was dealt communal
elections in 97 was clearly violating law"), and he did not even lack a
kind of sarcastic irony describing himself as one of the monsters as
western propaganda has demonized serbs. the talk took nearly two hours; we
learned again that yugoslavia could not accept rambouillet because of the
condition that foreign troops could move freely inside the whole country;
that police, army and special forces must have been heroes with
supernatural forces to have commited all the raping, torching, murdering
they are accused of beside defending the country and repairing streets and
communications ("there were incidents - but that's war. and do you really
believe that some officials in belgrade sat together and decided to order
the troops to do these crimes?"); that kosovo-albanians cannot claim the
region they live in because they have no history there ("but you know -
they have the highest birthrate in europe?"); that kla is a bunch of
terrorists that dig out bodies from cemetaries to fake massgraves ("read
interpol-reports from the middle of the nineties - kla is always
recognized as a terrorist organisation there"), and that they are now
getting internationally into mafia-style business; that presidential
elections were given the full ok by osce-controllers ("but when we needed
help in the process of democratization the west did not give it"); that
the only ethnical cleansing in serbia took place after ww II when 300.000
germans were expelled from woiwodina.

we got out after two hours and after i had explained my problem; i was
told that the delay was caused that the foreign ministery after having been
bombed was mainly busy with reorganization. mr. d. asked me to come back
again next day. i had dinner with the journalist, then went to my friends'
place. a note on the desk said that a call from the consulate in vienna
came in: the visum should be ok.

i went to the consulate again on thursday; naturally they didn't receive
any message from vienna or belgrade and refused to call them ("you see - a
word on the telephone is not enough"). i went to meet mr. d. again, again
we shook hands and he introduced me to mrs. p., cultural attachee of the
embassy. i told them the news, i experienced another brief lecture
("you're a german, you know how it is being bombed; and let me tell you
this one thing: after what you suffered in 43, 44, 45 i regret that
germany did not bomb england harder in 41") and i was assured any
necessary help, especially if i really would write about the destruction
of cultural heritage by nato and kla. i was given one copy of the white
book concerning nato crimes in yugoslavia. mr.d. led me out and again i
entered the consulate. this time the visum was issued. later i learned
that in the end the ministry of cultural affairs had intervened at the
foreign ministry.


at the embassy they recommended to take a minibus from the agip-gasstation
close to the airport instead of the bus that leaves from
budapest-nepstadion: it would be more comfortable and take less time at
the customs. i bought some food, packed my things, said goodbye to my
friends and left. there's a shuttle from the kempinski hotel at deak ter
to the airport. the driver refused to let me out at the gasstation; i had
to take a taxi. at the agip three or four minibuses from belgrade were
waiting. the drivers sat inside having a coffee; i seemed to be the only
passenger. i was told the price for a place in the minibus is 80 dem;
being brought by car immediately would be 300 dem. i had a coffee too; the
drivers left but told me before that i either have to wait until 4 p.m.
or, if the driver with the car finds another passenger, join them and pay
80 dem for the trip. i waited outside having a lazy chat with a guy
working for the hyatt in belgrade; he told me that the bombing did not
have any effects on the hotel - it has an independent water and
powersupply, and there was no shortage on any food; the canadian
journalist had called it the most expensive bombshelter the day before: a
sandwich for 10 dem. some minutes past 4 p.m. the cardriver appeared, and
a boy and a woman were already in the car. i grabbed my backpack and
joined them.

the driver had a rather offensive style; we reached the border within two
hours, listening to richard clyderman playing christmas songs. some thirty
to fourty cars were waiting there, crammed with people and a variety of
goods - bikes, tiles, fridges, eternit. neither the hungarian nor the
yugoslav customs did hurry too much. the driver asked me to pay the 80 dem
now - he wanted to have the money before the customs deceide whether they
let me in or send me back. i learned again that the only advice for
crossing a border is to make yourself as invisible and to leave as little
traces of your existence as possible - causing attention by any sign and
may it be as "positive" as possible is never recommended: the book about
the nato-crimes laid on the seat and the officers, being paid for being
suspicious became curious enough that a small interrogation had to be
executed. i was asked about where i will stay, the purpose of the trip and
my business until they finally were satisfied ant tired with taking notes.

the road into yugoslavia was empty - one or two trucks the kilometer, a
few cars, that was all. the sun went down slowly passing any imaginable
colour between light orange and dark red, some harvested fields were
burnt. the driver seemed to be friends with a lot of policemen we saw -
they waved and smiled except those who once stopped us for checking the
drivers papers. speedlimits did exist but were ignored by the driver as
trafficlights were: "kein problem!" he spoke a bit german, offered
cigarettes and told me he was working in tourist business before; when the
war began he had to find another job and started driving journalists from
belgrade to budapest and back every second day. he apologized: he had a
family and the daughter was a student, gasoline is available since the
bombing of refineries either on the blackmarket for around 1.80 dem/l or
on coupons (20 l/month/car) for 0.65 dem but will become more expensive

there were no visible traces of the bombing; but since we passed subotica
the driver told briefly what was bombed where we passed. we arrived novi
sad; i learned that the refinery was not under repair. the beska-bridge
over the danube had been opened only three days ago ("the recontruction
was done in less than 40 days", the driver proudly said; in the book on
nato-crimes i read that the impact on april 1st "damaged 4.5 meters of the
metal bridge structure and about 20 meters of metal fence on both sides of
the bridge as well as the foundation beneath the fence"); the route to
budapest is now about 100 km shorter. we stopped for a coffee at a
gasstation; the driver descibed how he sat there between novi sad, pancevo
and belgrade in may and june following the sounds of missiles and
detonations and applauding the yugoslav pvo firing. we passed batajnica; a
kid was killed there on april 17th. we passed zemun and entered belgrade.
it became a rather unreal scenery with some apocalyptical elements -
beside the street sat old men offering gasoline in different colours out
of PET-bottles, gypsy kids checking for usable stuff between burning
garbage cans and offering to clean the cars' windows, the street lights
were as incomplete as those of lots of cars; they were driven like hell
anyway: in a narrow turn a small van overtook us too fast; we saw him
again 20 m further crashed against a streetlight (no casualties - driver
and passenger looked as being sobered within a second). it was nearly
palpable when we entered the smogbell hanging over the city; i later
noticed that my nails had become immediately as black as i remembered it
from my last trip.

in the distance the building of the socialist party was visible, regular
traces of the smoke on the white fašade caused when it burnt after the
second bombing; we drove down kneza milosa and i was shown a ruin complex
formerly known as the headquarters of the yugoslav and serbian police, the
general headquarters which resembled a rough rock, the ministry of
national defense which partly looked as if its floors had been made of
gum, the palace of the gouvernment of serbia which seemed rather intact
(except a missing part of the roof) from the outside but there should be a
crater inside; and the embassies of germany, canada and the usa, doors and
windows smashed and fašades decorated with swastikas and other graffiti.
on trg republike the boy was picked up by relatives (the woman had been
picked up at the border by her mother). the driver offered me to bring me
directly to my friends' place. i arrived at 8.30 p.m. when they just
started the barbecue with chicken wings, hamburgers and roasted guts.

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