Writers on the War: Reading the Bible in a bomb shelter

Vladimir Arsenijevic Serbian writer and member of the International Parliament of Writers
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The Independent Culture
IT IS not simple to live under siege. But is there anything at all that we haven't lived through? For years, everything around us has been thundering, so it is natural that we have learned how to be tough.

We know how to withdraw into our shell, if necessary. We are not interested in details. We know how to live through the consequences of utterly irresponsible, destructive rule, but we also know that nothing in this world is eternal.

We have seen terrible events approaching like a typhoon. And we saw them leave, having trampled over us. All those inter-republic antagonisms from the end of Eighties (ugly, nationalistic rhetoric, big economic convulsions, the establishment of a policy of hatred and spite). We saw three wars, each worse, more brutal and longer then the one before - in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina - tearing away all relations with the citizens of those republics that existed before.

We are so used to continuous decline that we are not too surprised that we are now bombed by the whole Nato pact, with its all might, as if all of us together took part in those infamous negotiations in European castles, together with drinks, which preceded military action - all of us, instead of group of hard-line negotiators.

Godzilla, naturally, does not look much where it treads. Likewise Nato, from the first day of its action, hits left and right. In the name of what is all this; for whose benefit?

And when all that has ever been worth anything around here is meticulously bombed and demolished, the representatives of the Western powers will arrive among the ruins to negotiate with the same hard negotiators they have dealt with before instead of the generals who are operating at the moment. As if nothing had happened they are going to shake hands, pose in front of the cameras and give statements about the results of negotiations in front of crowded journalists and cameramen.

Since nobody takes care of us, the only thing left to us is to take care of ourselves. After all, spring is here and people don't have time for a long lamentation. During the day, regardless of always-present possibility of air strikes, the streets are full. Disregarding the bombing, my fellow citizens are seeking a way to relax: they sip coffee in the city's open restaurants, they take their children to parks, they visit bookstores, go to cinemas and theatres where there are matinees instead of night shows. The streets are full of youth because schools are not open. People are more careful with each other than before.

There is a feeling of togetherness in front of an enormous enemy, but I think that the spring is, above all, playing a part. It brings back our balance and saves us.

Of course, there is a darker side of our life under siege. In spite of the apparent casualness, grave consequences are already felt. Psychosis is huge, and emotions collective and enormous. The feeling of being endangered by an invisible aggressor is helping many to forget what has led to this attack of "fascist Nato hordes", as the alliance is called in the domestic media.

The power that Nato, with its thoughtless deeds, has given to Slobodan Milosevic is immeasurable. The feeling of defeat among free-thinking intellectuals, writers and artists can be measured by the fear and concern they feel when contemplating their own safety.

Opposition parties of liberal orientation are practically non-existent; independent media are totally abolished. The university, as a centre of resistance to Slobodan Milosevic's unreasonable policies, is suppressed. In Belgrade, as in Kosovo, a systematic repression has been undertaken and people are naturally afraid of reprisals and revenge. My friend was loudly criticising a group of people who threw stones at the demolished window of the American cultural centre in Knez Mihajlo Street in Belgrade. In a twinkling, a few of them turned against her, so she had to withdraw. These are the occasions when words like "foreign mercenary", "traitor" or "fifth columnist" easily emerge on the surface and become a part of everyday vocabulary.

We are exhausted. That's what all this is about - we are not worried about the fear or hunger, or death, but only this heavy weariness which we feel to the bone. We don't have much energy left. We don't know how long we are going to last, we don't know what else we could do, we don't know why is all this happening to us, we don't understand where is our mistake, and we ask ourselves, does anyone know about us? We, the normal ones.

This article is from a series produced by the International Parliament of Writers