Sunday, March 12, 2006

Milosevic, Serbs and lessons about the World.

During my time in Barcelona I was friends with some people from the former Yugoslavia . Some from Serbia some from Macedonia some from Bosnia and I believe i talked to a guy from Slovenia but I was drunk at the time. They all got on well with each other in fact they were quiet close. They often tried speaking in their own languages to as they were sometimes similar. Anyway I got on best with the Serbs. We rarely talked about politics mainly about drink and "chicas". But when we did I found there take on life very different.

One of them was telling me about the time under Milosevic and during the NATO bombings that made me realise how lucky we really are. He told me of the joke people use to say. A man goes up to the shop keeper and sees that the shop keeper is writing the price of apples on a sign the prices is 10 Dinara he asks the shop keepers how much are the apples the shop keeper says 100 Dinara the man says grand so here is the 1000 Dinaras for the apples. During the war Serbia suffered record inflation. Prices increased so fast they could increase during a commerce transaction. He told me he had a note that had 15 zeros on it. Inflation at the time was 5 quadrillion per cent. (15 zeros). Daily inflation was 100%. Those figures just seem impossible to comprehend and dwarf Weimar Germany.

Another story was during the NATO air strikes. He used to live near the centre of the city near some major buildings. So his parents sent him of to his grandparents in the suburbs far away from anything resembling a military target for safety. So one day he was on I think it was the roof of the tower of flats watching the US airplanes fly over head. Like any teenage boy big planes were fascinating. Anyway his grandmother after much giving out finally gets him to come inside. Five minutes later a cluster bomb hit the side of the building while it didn’t do a lot of damage to the building itself where he had been standing 5 minutes previously was destroyed. NATO claimed that only 20 of the 23,000 precision guided bombs went astray. I guess that flat complex was one of the twenty.

On Milsovic the war and Kosovo. They saw it as a war where the people had been manipulated by the powers that be. Sure they wanted their independence but the way it was achieved the genocide was shameful. The story that the government spun them at the start of Kosovo was that the ethnic Albanians were massacring the Serbs living in Kosovo and that the country had to protect them. While there was a very small truth to it, it had been totally blown out of proportion to further the aims of Milosevic and his cronies. None of them liked Milosevic while they respected his intelligence they deplored the man. They disliked the tribunal in the Hague for the ease that Milosevic had in manipulating it. They wanted justice and were not sure it could be deliver. But now that Milsovic is gone I have to wonder are they glad he is dead or did they want him to see justice. They had a great hope for their country, that it could rise again, join the EU and become a prosporus nation again they were willing to work for it. All the Yugoslavians were except the person from Bosnia. Who saw little future for Bosnia.

They had a phobia about talking religion. They would almost curl up in a ball at the thought of talking about it. I had lived in Belfast for a while so I thought I had an idea what fear the mentioning religion could have been. But this was totally different. The mere thought of talking about it (I was wondering the difference between Orthodoxy and Catholicism for purely academic reasons and was shocked at the response) sent one of the guys into a small panic. One of the guys in our group who lived with the Serbs a Mexican convinced him that this was just a normal question and nothing else. So he explained it and I promptly changed the subject never to mention the r word again. The Serb guy was also sharing the flat with a Muslim from Tunisia who had an intolerance of any religion that was not Islam and had different views on the place of women. This serious really annoyed the rest of the flat mates and they sometimes jokingly refer to him as “terrorist”. ( There was another Muslim from Tunisia that they got on very well with. He used to tell me he thought Slipknot was very beautiful). Looking back now I never realised the power keg of a situation that was.

I don’t think we in the west know just how divisive religion can be. Even us who have had 30 years of semi-religious terrorism don’t know. But an attack on their religion is an attack on themselves. Maybe this is why we didn’t understand the Danish cartoons thing. To us an attack on a religion is at most a slap on the face to others it is a stab at the heart. Now I am not saying we should abide by their laws. But maybe we should have a bit more cop on when dealing with people who take religion more seriously then we do.

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