Your city is falling apart, your people are loathed across the globe, your government peddles lies. What do you do? In Belgrade, the Serbian capital, the dissenting voice of a vibrant artistic underground has risen from the ruins
loona Lu lives among the creatures of the night. When the clock strikes 11, she slips into her best knock-me-down-and-ravish-me platforms and sets off on a trek through the Belgrade wasteland. She strides past crumbling grey facades, under decaying neon signs with alternate letters burned out, across the potholed boulevards, on a nocturnal quest for techno raves and fringe art happenings.

Loona's cruise is more than a desperate hunt for fun; it is her job. The next day she pours her recollections down the microphone in the studio of B 92, Belgrade's semi-pirate radio station. Every day its wavelength lays bare the scraps of anger and desolation throbbing in the heart of the city that has become a Balkan symbol of war, tribalism and seclusion.

"At night everybody's trying to forget what's happening to them during the day and why they can't sleep," said Loona. "But there's no escape, you can't forget where you are. I don't want to keep my eyes closed."

Fleka lives in eternal darkness. He is a B 92 DJ who lost his eyesight to disease in 1990, just before war began in the former Yugoslavia.

"I went blind so that I can see better," says Fleka.

And what he sees is his native Belgrade turned from a once-thriving European metropolis into what he calls "Zombie Town". In Fleka's view, Belgraders have been made helpless, lobotomised puppets by warmongering, economic hardship, and government oppression. He kicks off his weekly cult midnight broadcast, called Sismis [The Bat], with a greeting that lets his listeners know just what he thinks of them: "Hello, zombies."

Every Monday he preaches a brand of apocalyptic poetry-philosophy. "We live king-size reality. King-size reality produces small-size people. And small-size people dream king-size dreams," he says.

This modern Homer, as he calls himself, spins a post-punk epic about the fate that has befallen his country and its capital: Zombie Town, also known as Paranoia Paradise, is under the thumb of President Slobodan Milosevic's alter ego - King- Size King Kong Doing Ding-Dong - who rules this dark al ternative reality of the air- waves as a monstrous tyrant. In his daily exercise of malice, King-Size King Kong woke The Shadow, a sticky ectoplasm of fears and ancient hatreds that had lain dormant in the nation's subconscious for centuries. Together with The Shadow ride Stupidity, Primitivism, Lies and Avarice, the four horsemen of ex-Yugoslavia's Apocalypse whom the tyrant has unleashed. They are a difficult crew to fight.

The Nato missiles targeting Bosnian Serbs can achieve nothing, predicts Fleka. There is only one weapon powerful enough to stop King-Size King Kong. It is The Mental Bomb. This clockwork device made of New Consciousness will one day explode over Zombie Town like a rusty shell and change people's mindsets.

To an outsider this picture may look like a Bosch tableau filtered through H R Giger's vision. But to regular visitors to Belgrade it is an accurate sketch of the everyday life they encounter.

"Living on and off in Belgrade over the last two years was an incredible experience," said Mark Hawker, a Glasgow artist who directed Zombie Town, a film about B 92 that will be shown on Channel 4 on 11 November. "You didn't need LSD to have a psychedelic trip. A simple walk was enough."

On such a walk one could not avoid noticing the swarms of policemen dressed not in standard navy but in baggy blue camouflage combat fatigues. These men patrol streets crawling with cigarette pedlars and small- time black marketeers of every sort. On their beat, law enforcers wave friendly hellos to mafiosi in brand-new Mercedes collecting protection money. Filling-station employees sit idle in front of pumps drained by the UN embargo against Serbia, while smuggled fuel embellishes every street corner, in Coca-Cola bottles.

This is the reality B 92 submits daily to anybody who cares to listen. It doesn't come only in Fleka's parables and Loona's extravaganzas. It also runs serious and professionally produced news - although such an attitude doesn't pay in Serbia.

B 92's 30 employees and 120 stringers are crammed into four rooms, broadcasting from a single studio on a transmitter so feeble that only central Belgrade can tune in. The last licence the station got was issued for 15 days in 1989. Still, B 92 openly runs its news, views and a whole lotta rock'n'roll 24 hours a day.

"There's nothing strange in it," said Veran Matic, the editor-in-chief of B 92. "Anything is possible in this country. We are a non-existent company owned by a non-existent organisation broadcasting from a non-existent building." He was referring to the fact that B 92 was officially established by the Youth Council, a now-defunct organisation that melted into thin air in the melee that marked the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the demise of communism.

Its offices are located in a building uncomfortably wedged in a block between Parliament Palace and the state radio and television headquarters. According to city plans, the building shouldn't be there; it was never officially registered due to its poor condition. The building itself is a run-down tribute to massive, characterless Communist- era architecture. The lifts are in such a dismal condition that when Carl Bildt, the co- chairman of the peace conference on former Yugo- slavia, visited the station on 12 September, he had to walk part of the way up to B 92's fifth- floor premises.

Top-drawer international diplomats do not usually constitute the largest portion of underground radio's loyal fans, but again, nothing is unimaginable in Belgrade. Veran Matic explains the station's diplomatic following: "Oh, David Austen, Bildt's adviser, introduced him to us. David likes us because he's a rocker in love with our programme."

Mr Austen is a British diplomat who spent long nights of his stint at Her Majesty's Belgrade embassy glued to the radio. He is just one of many Western diplomats - including Lord Owen - who have been regular visitors to B 92.

People like Bildt and Lord Owen probably don't have alternative radio stations on the itinerary in most countries, but in Serbia today, if you want to know the truth, you go to B 92. State news organisations have been turned into an almost surrealistic propaganda machine. Every day they pump out a picture of reality not as it is but as they would like it to be.

Oblivious to the war, the Nato intervention in Bosnia, hundreds of thousands of refugees, and 40 per cent unemployment, Belgrade's state-run radio bulletins rarely contain more than President Milosevic's schedule of meetings devoted to his "permanent efforts for peace and prosperity". Official television news is little more than an endless litany of "telegrams of support to the President".

Against this grotesque backdrop emerged the vibrant artistic scene affiliated to B 92. The station now publishes two magazines, one literary and the other devoted to women's culture, the first of its kind in the Balkans.

The station also established a film company, which produced a stunning documentary about the Belgrade mafia last year. Its first feature, Marble Ass, about drafting transvestites to fight in the war with Croatia, was awarded the "Teddy Bear" by gay and lesbian associations at the Berlin film festival.

Urbazona, a group of visual artists who work under the auspices of B 92, has recently staged eight exhibitions dominated by paintings of such superheroes as Batman and Spiderman, installations, and extravagant clothing.

Scarce cash for these activities trickles in mainly from the US-based Soros Foundation, labelled as one of the Great Satans by the government. Several art galleries agreed to stage Urbazona exhibitions, but only under the condition that Soros is not mentioned in the catalogues.

An important part of B 92's activities is its persistent struggle to maintain cultural links with the outside world. In September its guests were the controversial masters of provocation Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty of the K Foundation (formerly the KLF band), famous for burning pounds 1m of cash in Scotland. And, however much of an artistic experience their performance may have been to the audience, Drummond and Cauty had an equal opportunity to broaden their artistic vision.

They landed in Belgrade to present a documentary on their burning their cash. But this bizarre act did not seem to have rattled the brains of people calling in on Fleka's show. For the Serbs had seen their own money go up in the smoke of 30 million per cent per month inflation in 1993. Valueless notes with unreadably huge figures printed on them are still in use as wallpaper or in kites.

Equally unremarkable to the Serbian public was KLF's (Kopyright Liberation Front) famous tampering with the copyrights of other bands' hits; in Serbia, Jurassic Park was shown on television twice before its European cinema premiere.

What is really avant-garde for people whose daily lives are a kind of Dadaistic nightmare are beliefs and tenets considered commonplace in the rest of the world. These tenets are spelled out in a B 92 leaflet: "We believe in parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, social justice, human rights and last but not least, minority rights."

"I stand behind the blacks in the deep American South, behind the Croats and Muslims here in Belgrade, and gay people everywhere," said Loona Lu. "We are fighting for people's right to be what they are, to be different."

Those who want to wrench that right out of people's hands are considered by B 92 to be its worst enemies. After the "world premiere" broadcast of KLF's "Que Sera Sera" recording with the Red Army Orchestra on B 92, Fleka came up with his ad hoc version : "When I was just a little boy/ I asked Big Brother what shall I be/ Shall I be penniless, shall I get killed/ That's what He said to me:/ Que Sera Sera, Whatever will, be will be/ The future's not yours to see ..." And what the B 92 crew fight for is to grab their future back into their own hands.

"We want to preserve an ember of individualism and creativity in this darkness," said Fleka. "And keep rockin' till the end of the night.''

n 'Zombie Town' will be shown on 11 November at 11.50pm as part of Channel 4's 'Tribe Time' series

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