Saturday, February 11, 2012


REPORTING FROM MADRID -- A fugitive implicated in the 2003 assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has been arrested along with two other men in Spain, police said Friday.

The three men were members of a Serbian paramilitary group known as Arkan's Tigers, Spanish police said in a statement. They were apprehended a day earlier at a restaurant in the eastern city of Valencia.

One of the men, Vladimir Milisavljevic, had been sentenced in absentia by a Serbian court to 75 years in prison for involvement in Djindjic's killing, as well as for other crimes. 
Djindjic was shot March 12, 2003, by a sniper while on his way into a government building in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

Today's headline from the LA Times takes me back to the afternoon I listened to Djindjic speak to a crowd in the rain on a Belgrade square:

There is supposed to be a demonstration tonight, Žarko reports. Here in the square. Against school reform and for freedom of the media. Djindjić is going to speak.
Who is Djindjić? I ask.
He was elected mayor of Belgrade, Žarko explains. You remember the elections Milošević tried to steal? Djindjić had been a student of the philosopher Jürgen Habermas in Frankfurt. He’s an intelligent man. But he never figured out how to deal with reality. So Milošević, who isn’t all that bright academically but who has his fingers on the pulse of things, could step in after the fact, divide the opposition, and take over again.
Rain falls across the afternoon and onto the nighttime crowd that has gathered in the square, a thousand people perhaps, standing under umbrellas and yellow street lamps.
Students hand out color posters that feature a microphone lit brightly against a threatening black cloud, gripped by a hand with its middle finger extended. At the top are printed a question and a command:

                                                              MISLITE O TOME.

I understand the photo perfectly, but to translate the words I bend over my rečnik/dictionary: How much/how long the radio stopping place audible? Does it mean: How long will the radio station be audible? And then: Think about it.
            Not likely.
At the bottom are the words: Radio Index. And then a brave and/or foolhardy “claimer”: Fotografija, Art Concept and Design: KAMENKO PAJIĆ.
Twenty people, most of them men, stand on a stage built up against an equestrian statue between the museum and the theater, lit by inconsistent spotlights. Students wave the opposition party’s green and yellow flags and one red, blue, and white Serbian flag.
The steady rain soaks a huge sound system.
Speakers, one after the other, take the microphone and work the crowd. The words are incomprehensible to me, but I understand the rhetorical devices: the repetitions, the pauses, the crescendos, the climaxes.
The crowd is dripping wet. Hundreds of umbrellas block the view.
Žarko translates as much as he can. Every speaker, it seems, is denouncing as devils Milošević and Šešelj, who himself once called Milošević a devil.
Shrill whistles from the crowd.
Milošević is a fox, one speaker shouts, a fox scheming with Richard Holbrooke to sell out Kosovo.
Isn’t this the liberal opposition? I ask Žarko.
He nods.
Couples are embracing throughout the crowd.
Have you noticed that there is an erotic buzz in any demonstration? Žarko asks.
A speaker compares Milošević with Hitler.
On the periphery, young men tell loud jokes. People buy cigarettes and magazines at a kiosk. Ambulances stand by. A Red Cross worker in reflective clothing walks through the crowd with a radio.
Finally Djindjić takes the microphone. He led the street demonstrations just a year ago, hundreds of thousands of citizens marching and blowing whistles and demanding that the results of the democratic elections be honored. They achieved their goal. Djindjić and friends took office. But here they are again, out of power, outside in the rain, speaking to a scant thousand demonstrators, participants in a revolution that is running out of steam.
Still, Djindjić is a consumate orator. We’ll go to the people, he says. We don’t need the media. We’ll simply walk with the people. . . . We will not stop until the Milošević government is toppled. . . . We will not allow him to cripple the education system. . . . And we will never allow him to give away the birthplace of Serbia. Kosovo is sacred ground!
This is nuts, Žarko says.
What is nuts? I ask.
One way to explain Milošević’s drastic educational reform, he says, is as an attempt to maintain Serbian control of Kosovo by keeping the Albanians there out of the universities. So when Djindjić demands that Milošević keep Kosovo Serbian, he works against his own demand for academic freedom.
We’ll continue the demonstration tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock, Djindjić says. See you there.
And that’s it. The demonstration is adjourned.
After a minute the sound system blares some sort of heroic, overwrought film music. I think of Woody Allen’s line: “Listening to Wagner makes me want to invade Poland.” How do you move the masses without playing to the mass instincts that are part of the problem?
Before the lights dim, Djindjić gives an interview to a man in a red rain jacket holding a tape recorder and then another to a TV journalist (so who doesn’t need the media?), and it’s over.
We walk back toward my hotel. Around the corner stand eight vans full of policemen. One of them shouts insults at us as we pass. I don’t need a translator.
Radio Index posters adorn every wall, every column, every door. Someone has been busy. And brave.
In the hotel, a couple of men shake the rain out of their hair and off their coats and explain to the desk clerks: We went out to overthrow the government, and it rained. They laugh uproariously.
Žarko says good night and walks on to his mother’s place.
I sit in my room and remember Djindjić’s broad, handsome smile in the spotlight. His practiced wave. His rhythmic sentences. His forceful repetitions.
I think of the sentences I translated in Peter Handke’s A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia, of a very different rhetoric – Handke’s dialectical stammering, his pragmatic detours, his incessant questions.
How does a country move from “crowds and power” to a self-conscious and skeptical democracy? Education? Books that teach another kind of thinking? But then, in a crisis, as people look for answers, for comfort, right-wing rhetoric and left-wing clichés blossom. The leader promises purity, points to unambiguous solutions, incites to absolutes, and starts wars.
I’ve read the theory. Tonight I saw theory in action.
Don’t get me wrong. I admire Djindjić. Leaders aren’t perfect. But I can wish for a different kind of people. And I’m not thinking of Yugoslavs.

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